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$12,000/Year Is What Each Smoking Employee Can Cost
But Companies Can Easily and Lawfully Avoid These Costs
By Adopting a Smoke-Free (like a drug-free) Workforce Policy


Every study and every report agrees that employing a smoker adds huge and totally unnecessary costs -- totaling many thousands of dollars  per smoking employee -- to the costs of doing business.  These are dollars which could instead be used to provide more health care benefits to all employees, higher salaries, or to increase company profits.  This is true even if the employer already prohibits smoking in the workplace, and all of the worker's smoking occurs in off-the-job settings, since off-the-job smoking is capable of causing many different and often expensive health and related problems.

But exactly how much each smoking employee costs the employer (or how much an employer can save by hiring only nonsmokers), and whether or not it is morally as well as legally permissible to give preference in hiring to nonsmokers, or even to insist upon a smoke-free (like a drug free) work force, has been subject to conflicting claims.  The purpose of this document is to try to clarify the first issue, and to provide links to other documents which address the additional issues.

Naturally, the additional average cost of hiring any smoking employee -- or the cost saving to be expected from hiring a nonsmoking employee instead -- will logically depend upon many different factors specific to the company.  These include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:
* the predominant type of workforce involved: e.g., blue collar, office staff, high-paid professionals, etc.
* the average age of the work force in each of the categories above
* the relative costs of medical care in the community (which can vary widely with geographical region of the country)
* the type of medical insurance -- and of disability coverage -- which is provided by the employer
* whether smokers are offered -- or in some cases take, even in the absence of a  formal policy -- additional time for smoking breaks during the working day

Also, a great deal of confusion has resulted from the fact that employees who smoke impose many different kinds of costs, and some estimates only include a very limited type (e.g., the direct medical care cost of major diseases known to be caused by smoking).  However, a more complete list must include, at the very least, all of the following:
* increased medical care for all of the many diseases and conditions caused by smoking
* increased medical care for diseases and conditions simply aggravated or exacerbated by smoking (e.g., a smoker's broken leg caused by a skiing accident takes substantially longer to heal, and he is more likely to also suffer from other problems like respiratory complications, infections, etc.);
* additional health care costs for a smoker's immediate family on his health plan (because of the impact of his secondhand tobacco smoke on their health)
* substantially increased costs for disability because many diseases caused by smoking -- e.g., heart attacks, strokes, various cancers, emphysema and other  chronic respiratory problems etc.-- can put people on disability for a very long (and expensive) time
* additional and unnecessary time lost from work (sick leave) because of illnesses and conditions caused and/or exacerbated by smoking
* additional time away from work to take smoke breaks during the working day

In addition, there may be additional costs of having a smoking employee which are difficult if not impossible to quantify.  These could include:
* More and more nonsmokers, especially older ones, are sensitive to the odor of tobacco smoke present on the clothing and person of smokers, even if they only smoke outside.  This could cause a problem for other employees, as well as customers and other visitors to the workplace.  Indeed, it has been found that this so-called "third hand tobacco smoke" can cause medical problems, and create liability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
* Employees who are smokers off-the-job are obviously much more likely than non-smokers to "sneak a smoke" on company property where smoking is normally prohibited, especially if they are under stress, or just to "spite" the boss, than are nonsmoking employees.  In some situations this can create a fire hazard, especially if the area chosen for clandestine smoking in adjacent for flammable materials.  It can also cause burn damage, increase cleanup costs, etc.
* While most smokers are not alcoholics, many if not most alcoholics are also smokers, so eliminating smokers may also reduce the many (and often costly) problems related to alcohol abuse without having to separately screen for alcoholism.
* Having someone who is known in the community to be a smoker, even if he or she only smokes off-the-job, can undermine the image and message of many corporations whose business is related in any way to health (e.g., hospitals, insurance companies, fitness related, or even fast foods or clothing  etc.), in the same way that employing a person who hunts might logically undermine the image of an animal rights/welfare organization, or employing a women who moonlights as a stripper (or a man who frequents strip clubs) could undermine an organization devoted to women's rights or one whose message involves conventional morality.

The only known situation in which the costs of each smoking employee were thoroughly explored occurred in a judicial proceeding (in which ASH participated) which challenged the legality of a governmental body's decision to hire only smokers.  In this proceeding each side has an opportunity to present testimony on the issue, and to cross examine those presenting evidence on the opposing side.

At the conclusion of the proceeding, the court upheld the challenged smoke-free workplace policy, holding that it was in full compliance with the  existing law (which applies to both public and private entities), and with both the U.S. and the Florida constitutions (which apply only to governmental bodies).

In its decisions the court reported that "Additional evidence submitted by the City indicates that each smoking employee costs the City as much as $ 4,611 per year in 1981 dollars over what it incurs for non-smoking employees."  City of North Miami v Kurtz, 653 So. 2d 1025.  Adjusted for inflation, $ 4,611 in 1981 dollars would be over $12,000 in 2009 dollars.

Indeed, the figure might be much higher today because medical science has identified far more medical conditions and problems cause by primary smoking (i.e., to the smoker himself).  Also, the now-clearly-established tendency of secondhand tobacco smoke to cause both heart attacks and various cancers in nonsmokers (e.g., family members of the smoking employee) was unknown in 1981.

The impact of the cost of smoking on nonsmoking employees can be considerable.  Assume, for the sake of argument, that the total costs of employing each smoker is only $12,000 -- substantially lower than the court finding reported above.  Assume further that the percentage of smoking employees in a given workforce matches that in the general population, where about 20% of all adult smoke.

Under those assumptions, on the average, each group of five employees would contain one smoker and four nonsmokers.  The $10,000 of additional costs resulting from each smoker would impact the entire group, with $10,000 a year not available to provide the group of five with additional health benefits, higher salaries, or other perks. This amounts to a $2,000 a year financial burden each nonsmoking employee is unfairly forced to bear, which is one the many reasons ASh supports firms which seek to have a smoke-free work force.

For a summary of some of  the major arguments in favor of establishing a smoke-free workforce policy, see:
NEWSRx: Smokefree Policy Can Save $12,000/Yr Per Employee

CBS TV News hails Scotts Miracle Gro's new smoke-free workplace policy as "national model" and the "new reality": link

Also some states have so-called "smokers' rights laws," both the AMA and ASH have pointed out that, because they are often poorly written and rarely enforced, and because there are simple ways to achieve a smoke-free workforce despite the statutes, these laws should not be a significant deterrent.  See:
Smoker Discrimination Laws Easily Avoided, Says AMA


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