OHS Canada Magazine

Smokers heavily impact productivity, study says

November 11, 2013

Health & Safety Injury, Illness Prevention

(Canadian OH&S News)

(Canadian OH&S News)

A recent report from the Conference Board of Canada claims that employees who smoke have a strongly detrimental effect on their companies’ bottom line.

Smoking Cessation and the Workplace: Benefits of Workplace Programs, which was released on Oct. 29, is the third and last in a series of briefings by the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC) — a program run by the Conference Board — on how smoking affects the work environment. Among the report’s revelations: a combination of decreased productivity and increased absenteeism resulted in an average yearly loss of $4,256 per daily smoker in Canada in 2012, a figure that is way up from the calculated $3,396 in 2005.

“The research is mostly health-focused, but we also looked at productivity losses, because we were trying to argue that it is in the best interests of the employers to actually do something about this,” explained study co-author Fares Bounajm, an economist with CASHC. “They do actually have a lot to benefit from this. But the other major goal is obviously to reduce smoking.”

The study analyzed four different categories of costs attributed to smoking employees, putting dollar values on the losses. Productivity loss, attributed mostly to unsanctioned smoke breaks, accounted for an average cost of $3,842 per daily smoker in 2012, with an additional $414 lost per daily smoker due to absenteeism. Daily smokers also tend to take about two-and-a-half more sick days a year than nonsmokers do, the study added.


“In a typical Canadian firm with 100 employees, 14 daily smokers and 15 former daily smokers who recently quit, this represents an annual productivity loss of nearly $60,000,” the study said. “The figure can be significantly higher in industries where smoking rates are typically well above average.”

In terms of costs that have a more indirect effect on employers, the Canadian economy lost about $7.1 billion in productivity in 2010 due to people who could not work because of chronic conditions resulting from smoking, including lung and bladder cancer, leukemia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease. An additional $4.3 billion in long-term economic losses was due to the calculated 26,681 premature deaths attributable to the habit that same year.

Bounajm said that while employers shouldn’t necessarily be seen as responsible for helping their employees quit smoking, they do have a strong financial motivation to establish workplace smoking-cessation programs.

“Smokers do cost their employers money, and we know that a lot of the employees would like to quit,” he said. “This could be a win-win situation for both the employers and many of the smokers that do want to quit, because the employers can implement a workplace cessation program, and by doing so, they can get a good return on their investment, because they can lower their productivity losses due to smoking. At the same time, the employees benefit because they become healthier and they achieve their goal of quitting smoking.”

Bounajm added that employers could add cessation aids to their company benefits plans. “We know that there are two types of aids that do work. We know that counselling works. We know that certain cessation aids work. And we know that combining them together actually works the best.”

The report estimated that an effective workplace cessation program could cause the prevalence rate of daily smokers in an average Canadian company to decrease by 35 per cent by 2025.


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