Smokers and Your Company's Bottom Line

by Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D.

Does your company have employees who smoke? Smokers not only endanger their own health; they can also cost businesses big bucks! Consider these reasons for promoting a smoke-free workforce.

Does your company have employees who smoke? Smokers not only endanger their own health; they can also cost businesses big bucks! Some corporations have responded via policies that forbid their employees to smoke at all, at the risk of getting fired. Short of that, there are other things business owners and managers can do to reduce the number of smokers in the workplace. This article provides information on the costs of smoking to employers and to employees, and gives advice on how businesses can encourage employees to quit. The statistics in this article come from the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the Centers for Disease Control of the National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization.

While you may think that an employee's choice to smoke is a strictly private matter, perhaps you'll reconsider when you know what smokers can cost their employers. Here's a few U.S. statistics that may surprise you.

  • Health care costs for smokers are as much as 40% higher than for non-smokers in the same age group.
  • Corporate employees who smoke cost their employers $1429 more per smoker, per year, in increased health care costs, as compared to non-smoking employees.
  • Smokers cost U.S. employers over $40 billion a year to due to premature death and disability as a direct result of smoking.
  • Various studies estimate that smokers are two to three times more often absent from work, as compared to non-smokers.
  • Compared to non-smokers, in any given year, smokers are 50% more likely to be hospitalized and have 15% higher disability rates.
  • Smoking causes millions of dollars of damage each year, due to fires. Between 1993 and 1996 the National Fire Protection Association reported $391 million in direct damage caused by smoking-related fires. While many of these fires occur in the home, some do occur in the workplace. Moreover, an employee who has just set his house afire is not going to be in the best shape emotionally.
  • In general, employees who smoke are less productive than non-smokers because they have less energy, are sick more often, and take more breaks in order to contend with the demands of nicotine addiction.


So much for the costs to corporations. Most people know that smoking is bad for one's health. However, most people don't realize just how bad smoking really is. Here are some sobering facts and statistics should make anyone think twice about smoking.

  • Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the U.S. and accounts for 20% of all deaths in the U.S. annually. The Centers for Disease Control report that smoking causes approximately 440,000 premature deaths in the U.S. annually and approximately $157 billion in health-related economic losses.
  • In the 1990s, smoking was estimated to cause one in five male deaths from cardiovascular diseases in developed countries (and about 6% of female cardiovascular deaths).
  • Smoking causes about one-sixth of all deaths in developed countries. This proportion is rising, because more women are taking up the habit. This means that about 200 million out of the 1.2 billion people living in developed countries will eventually be killed by tobacco.
  • Smoking causes about 30% of all cancer deaths in developed countries (40-45% of male cancer deaths, and 10-15% of female cancer deaths). On average, about 90-95% of male lung cancer deaths in developed countries, and 70-75% of female lung cancer deaths are due to smoking.
  • In 1995, the World Health Organization estimated that smoking was the cause of about 1.44 million male deaths in developed countries, and 475,000 female deaths in these countries. This represents one in four male deaths and about 10% of female deaths.
  • Between 1950 and 2000, tobacco was estimated as the cause of over 60 million deaths in developed countries (52 million men, 10 million women).
  • On the average, adult smokers lose 20-25 years of life expectancy.
  • Smokers in their 30s and 40s have five times as many heart attacks as non-smokers in this age group. In industrialized countries, tobacco is responsible for 75% to 80% of all heart attacks in smokers under age 50.

Smoking wreaks its deadly damage in many insidious ways. By restricting oxygen and blood supply throughout the body, and by pumping poisons and toxins into the bloodstream, smoking directly damages the heart (cardiovascular disease and heart attack), lungs (emphysema, bronchitis and lung disease) and brain (stroke). Smoking also contributes to hearing loss, vision loss, arthritis, chronic coughing, decreased athletic performance, heartburn and gastro-intestinal reflux disease, various forms of cancer, decreased circulation in fingers and toes, skin wrinkles, yellow teeth, and bad breath.

If you are a business owner or manager, and you have employees who smoke, you can help them and boost your company's bottom line by promoting a smoke-free workforce and by investing in a corporate smoking cessation program. To get employees to stop smoking, make it a policy to give them literature that informs them about the health risks and economic costs of smoking. Provide a list of local smoking cessation clinics where they can attend group classes. For employees who might benefit from an individualized program, offer a referral to a local mental health practitioner specializing in smoking cessation.

One of the best ways to stop smoking is by working with a psychotherapist who uses a combination of behavior modification methods and clinical hypnosis. These methods are often even more effective when the client is also using other smoking-cessation aides such as a nicotine patch, nicotine gum, nicotine inhaler, or a physician-prescribed drug, such as Zyban, to help calm the jitters during the first few weeks of withdrawal.

Major companies, such as Boeing, Goodyear, and Weyerhauser report savings in the millions of dollars through corporate smoking cessation programs. In these programs a smoking cessation specialist meets with smokers to inform them of the dangers of smoking and the advantages of smoke-free living, as well as training them in methods to stop smoking and ways to cope with withdrawal. Some specialists will also offer follow-up individual counseling sessions for employees who need extra help.

To stop smoking is one of the best things any smoker can do for improved health. In fact, within just a few months of quitting, ex-smokers have fewer throat infections, less coughing, better blood circulation, less shortness of breath, and more energy. Within one year of quitting, an ex-smoker's risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker!

No matter what approach your company chooses, don't expect 100% success. Although there are always people who will continue to smoke, no matter what, others just need a push in the right direction. Those who do stop will thank you!

Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist and free-lance writer in solo practice in Springfield, Virginia, specializing in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Hypnotherapy. Her web site is www.engagethepower.com.

 
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