Smoking in the Workplace

The World Health Organization has identified tobacco use as the single most preventable cause of premature disability and death worldwide (1).  Approximately 20% of the population use tobacco daily, and therefore, my work as a Quit Smoking Coach, will not likely cease anytime soon.  There are a handful of us out here assisting people to quit smoking for good, however, we are a mere drop in the bucket, and if the goal is to really make an impact, we will collectively need to look at creative and innovative ways to reach the people we serve.

Might our answer be in the workplace?  It makes sense that encouraging and assisting people to quit is the quickest approach to reducing tobacco-related disease, death, and health care costs (2), but whose responsibility is it to fund cessation? And have our efforts to educate about the harmful effects of smoking created an environment where tobacco-users are afraid to ask for help to quit, for fear that they will be judged or criticized for their addiction?

What are the costs?  In 2013, the Conference Board of Canada calculated that the annual cost of employing a smoker was $4,256 CAD, and almost 90% of that total cost was attributable to unsanctioned smoke breaks and lost productivity (3).  The cost savings obtained when an employer adopts a Comprehensive Corporate Tobacco Reduction Strategy are substantial.  Reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, and a healthy corporate image are key indicators that the employer cares about their staff, and that they are willing to invest some time and money into their health and wellbeing. We know that a Comprehensive Corporate Tobacco Reduction Strategy also provides benefits to employees.  Improvements in health, job satisfaction, corporate memory, and pride are just a few.

Hirotaka Matsushima, a company in Japan, is awarding its non-smoking staff an additional six days of holiday each year in response to complaints of smoking staff taking more breaks, and Canadian companies are sparking some debate by considering doing the same. I’m uncertain that a “vacation for non-smokers policy” in the workplace would encourage smokers to take note and consider quitting, or if it would inspire them to foster resentment, but I do know that employees spend a good portion of their week at work, and wouldn’t it be great if companies invested those cost savings into programs that would support employees to quit for good.

Tobacco reduction is a sound economic investment and is especially profitable when offered over the long term.  This is, in my opinion, a great time to provide them with the time and resources to create their own personalized quit plan, sponsor wellness walks and exercise, yoga and meditation, and maybe even tapping for cravings, and get them on the right track to long-term health benefits for all staff members.  Let’s be inclusive.  Let’s work together to come up with innovative ideas that will help improve the health of everyone. Let’s work on strategies that will benefit the bottom line for employers (because I know they all love that), and will make employees proud to be part of a wellness initiative that benefits all.  

  1. World Health Organization. (2013). Tobacco-Free Initiative (TFI): Why Tobacco is a Public Health Priority. http://www.who.int/tobacco/health_priority/en/
  2. Institute of Medicine. Ending the Tobacco Problem: A Blueprint for the Nation. Washington: The National Academies Press, 2007.
  3. Conference Board of Canada 2013; Briefing on Smoking Cessation and the Workplace.

  

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