Smokers spend a year ‘lighting up’

by Stephanie Zillman20 Mar 2012

Every smoker on your staff may be costing your organisation up to $8,000 every year. The reason? Smokers on average take 60 minutes a day having smoking breaks, and this is equates to 30 working days per year. For someone on a $60,000 salary, that’s around $8,000 for lighting up.

Research from ASH UK suggests that the average smoker also takes five more sick days per year than the non-smoker. “Then there’s the hidden costs,” Natalie Clays from Allen Carr said. “Smoking also impacts on mental health by increasing anxiety and reducing concentration. There is no such thing as a happy smoker.”

In 2010 the federal Health Department sparked outrage among staff when they issued a notice that employees were thereafter banned from smoking during work hours or “when representing the department in any capacity.” Staff were only permitted to smoke during meal breaks and not within 15 metres of the workplace. Notably, the notice also offered support to those wanting to quit smoking.

The move was aimed at improving their health and the ''professional reputation of the department'', but was slammed by employee advocate groups as ‘heavy handed’. Yet the policy was legally permissible and followed similar moves by other government departments.

Nadine Flood from the Community and Public Sector Union said the policy was well intentioned but ill-considered and argued that that it would have a negative effect on staff engagement. “Rather than focus on the positive support they are offering employees to quit, they have also started by threatening disciplinary action,” she said.

Establishing/reinforcing workplace smoking policies

In designing a smoking breaks policy, it is not only the needs of smokers that HR must address, but, importantly, also the rights of the non-smokers and of course the company’s bottom line. It should firmly establish where the business stands on when (or if) smoking breaks are permitted and of what maximum duration they can be, and put a number on how many breaks would be “too many”.

Issues which may be considered in a smoking policy include:

  • A statement that the organisation operates in a non-smoking environment, and whether the organisation will accommodate the needs of smokers
  • If smoking breaks are permitted, HR must decide on whether to take a restricted or unrestricted approach: the latter would state that the privilege would be removed if abused, and the former that smoking is only permitted during designated break times (eg lunch break)
  • List of designated smoking areas and a request that butts are disposed of properly
  • A statement of support to employees who wish to quit smoking — whether by providing access to quit programs or by subsidising quitting aids (eg chewing gum, patches)

World No Tobacco Day will take place on 31 May 2012.


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  • by Shane 20/03/2012 3:18:41 PM

    60 minutes a day!!! Seriously that is about one cigarette every hour and 15 minutes of a working day!! Fair shake of the sauce bottle!!

  • by Jimmy 12/07/2012 2:15:02 PM

    This is just an average. There are plenty of people who take more time for their smoke break and then take their scheduled breaks as well. Long meetings and training sessions often have to be broken up, as the real addicts can't concentrate if they don't get a fix.
    This has a tendency to upset the flow.
    We should note that they bring a terrible smell back to the office!
    One more thing: it kills you in the most horrible way!

  • by Pete 13/07/2012 2:50:29 PM

    Firstly I would like to point out that not too many smokers would take and hour of extra breaks for their habit. This is a bold and very extreme statement that I would like to see the research for, determine where this article was based. I would think a number of people are missing certain facts. In some industries there is an allowance of 40 minutes per day morning and afternoon especially where you get an unpaid lunch for people that they are legally entitled to take as part of Australian law. Also it is and should be a personal choice for people to smoke, and yes there are a number of smoking related diseases that can be very unpleasant for the sufferer but anyone could get hit by a bus tomorrow, have a or have a nasty or debilitating accident, and there are plenty of non-smoking related diseases. A number of things that are enjoyable in life is apparently meant to be bad for you fatty food, alcohol, smoking etc. I think what a number of people fail to realise is the ENORMOUS revenue generated in government taxes from tobacco product sales .This money contributes and goes a long way towards hospitals, schools, orphanages, wildlife conservation, public transport, outreach programs and a number of other programs and activities that are in place to look after Australians and make sure we get the best care and best start in whatever we do.

    If you look at the bigger picture the funds generated are nearly 10 times any potential burden on the health service from smoking related diseases. And if everyone in Australia quite smoking tomorrow who do you think would feel the repercussions of this revenue loss and a substantial tax hike? I guarantee it would be the non-smokers who would feel the pinch more. Smokers are used to paying for cigarettes on a regular basis anyway with any tax increase to cover a short fall in tax revenue, this would just be like money we are currently (blowing) paying for cigarettes. But tax increases on the non-smokers would be deemed unfair to them and an extra expense as they are not used to paying excess on tobacco. I am certain that non-smokers would not like to be paying more money because people don’t smoke anymore!! The most aggressive forms of Cancer are not linked to smoking and everyday people who eat healthy, exercise, do everything in their power to live what is supposed to be a healthy lifestyle and don’t smoke are told that they are seriously ill. There is always two sides to every argument and I understand that smoking is not ideal, but before certain people decide to make accusations to how much money smokers cost business they should stop and think. The amount of people who have jobs, decent health care and access to all the things we take for granted.

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