Advancing the Economic Argument for Tobacco Use Reduction in Business

Tobacco industry

Despite significant progress in lowering smoking rates, about 34 million people in the US smoke cigarettes, which has a severe negative impact on their health. Nearly 500,000 Americans die from illnesses associated with smoking and secondhand smoke exposure each year. Apart from its detrimental impact on health, smoking has an economic cost of over $300 billion annually in the US, which includes over $170 billion in medical expenses and over $150 billion in lost productivity due to smoking.

Smoking is Widespread In the US Workforce

As mentioned, in the US, millions of adult workers smoke. More than 34 million American adults, or 21.7% of the workforce, reported using tobacco products in a year, and over 22 million said they were active smokers. The smoking rates differ by kind of work. For instance, smoking rates are greater in blue-collar jobs (like construction and transportation) than in white-collar jobs (like management and sales).

According to a 2011 survey, the proportion of blue-collar workers who started smoking was greater than that of white-collar professions (46% vs. 33%). Moreover, among those who said they had ever smoked, blue-collar workers continued to smoke on a daily basis at a higher rate than white-collar workers (52% vs. 35%). Veterans of the armed forces, particularly those between the ages of 18 and 25, smoke even more often. According to a 2018 research, 57% of veterans of the armed forces were avid smokers.

The Price of Smoking to Employees

For workers who smoke, cigarette smoking is a leading cause of infections, cancer, peripheral vascular disease, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and early mortality. The health advantages of quitting smoking for smokers and their family members start to show right away and last for the rest of their lives.

Another major health concern is being around secondhand smoke. This is why in 2006 NJ’s Smoke-Free Air Act banned smoking in public places but allowed Atlantic City casinos to designate 25% of their gaming floors as smoking areas. This became a controversial topic in the gambling industry with many organizations being opposed to secondhand smoking as a major risk factor.

According to research done in 2007, there is a link between working in an atmosphere where tobacco smoke is present and a higher risk of lung cancer. Exposure to secondhand smoke raises the risk of heart failure in nonsmokers by 25% to 30% and 20% to 30%, respectively. Studies reveal that young and middle-aged employees who work in smoke-free environments are less likely to have cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction, heart failure, and stroke than their counterparts who work in environments with secondhand smoke. Lastly, smoking has immediate negative consequences on health and productivity. These effects include lower concentration, eye discomfort, decreased efficiency, and mistakes made at work.

The Price of Smoking to Businesses

Employee productivity is significantly decreased by tobacco usage in a number of ways, including by increasing absenteeism. Workers who actively smoked were 33% more likely to leave work and were away from the workplace for an average of 2.7 more days per year than nonsmoking workers, according to a meta-analysis of 17 studies. When smokers give up, even those who have only recently stopped, absenteeism drops.

Additionally, unauthorized breaks are more common among smokers than among nonsmokers. These breaks result in 8 to 30 minutes of missed work time per employee per day, making them the biggest single expense associated with smoking employees. The yearly extra cost of an employee who smokes is estimated to be $5816, which comprises $2056 in higher healthcare expenditures and $3760 in lost productivity costs. This represents the entire economic effect of an employee who smokes cigarettes. For every employee who smokes, businesses typically incur extra annual medical and pharmaceutical expenditures of $659. Illnesses due to smoking account for 6% – 18% of all medical costs in the US states.

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