Smoking doesn’t just damage smokers and people who spend time with them. It also hurts the bottom line for companies that employ smokers.
According to a new study from Micah Berman at Ohio State, the average smoking private sector employee costs companies $5,800 more per year than one who has never smoked.
Annual cost estimates ranged from $2,885 to $10,125.
That’s a pretty significant chunk of change. According to the study, on average there’s about a $517 loss from increased absenteeism, a $462 loss of productivity related to nicotine addiction, a $3,077 loss due to smoke breaks, and $2,056 in extra health care costs.
The researchers were relatively conservative in their estimates, figuring five smoke breaks in an eight hour workday, three of which took place during assigned breaks.
This is a much higher estimate than a CDC study conducted a decade ago, which pegged the number at $3,400.
That’s a big cost, particularly for companies with thousands of employees.
Employers aren’t blind to these costs. Increasingly, their response is to discourage smoking, help people quit, force them to pay higher premiums, or even refuse to hire smokers.
Some employers don’t like interfering with workers’ lives, however, and others worry about scaring away talent.
Bioethecist Zeke Emmanuel (Chicago Mayor Rahm’s brother) recently argued in the New England Journal of Medicine that declining to hire smokers is unethical because “it results in a failure to care for people, places an additional burden on already-disadvantaged populations, and preempts interventions that more effectively promote smoking cessation.”
65% of Americans agree with him in opposing the practice.
We recently spoke to Dr. Toby Cosgrove, the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, who spearheaded an early effort to reduce, then eliminate smoking at the hospital system.
The clinic now nicotine tests prospective new employees, alongside a drug test, and doesn’t hire those who test positive. They are offered smoking cessation support and the opportunity to re-test. They’ve managed to reduce employee smoking to just 6%, and along with other wellness efforts have significantly cut health care spending.
As for backlash and talent retention, it hasn’t been a problem. Public outcry died out in about a week, and they haven’t seen people up and quit.
“I don’t think its an ethical issue at all,” Cosgrove told us. “I think its a practical issue. And the practical issue is that we want to keep people healthy and as far as not hiring them is concerned, there’s lots of places they can go and work.”
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