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Clearing the Air at Work

Employers have a common law requirement to provide a "safe and healthful" workplace. Because secondhand tobacco smoke is a Group A carcinogen (similar to asbestos, radon, and benzene), this means that employers are responsible for making sure their workers are not exposed to tobacco smoke. Otherwise, employers leave themselves open to lawsuits. Office on Smoking and Health. (1997). Making your workplace smokefree: A decision maker's guide. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Weis, W. L. (April, 1985). America's bosses clear the air. American Health, pp. 18, 20.

Such lawsuits have already been won in several cases, but even apart from litigation, there are good reasons to ban smoking in the workplace. For one thing, it's a great way for employers to show they care about their workers. For another, smokers cost companies an average of more than $1,000 per year. Office on Smoking and Health. (1997). Making your workplace smokefree: A decision maker's guide. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How do profits go up in smoke? Here are 12 ways that companies lose money on smokers: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1992). Discomfort from environmental tobacco smoke among employees at worksites with minimal smoking restrictions -- United States, 1988. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 41, 351-354.

Gallup Organization, Inc. (1992). Survey of the public's attitudes toward smoking. Princeton, NJ: Gallup Organization, Inc.

Office on Smoking and Health. (1997). Making your workplace smokefree: A decision maker's guide. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Weis, W. L. (Summer, 1990). How to profit from workplace smoking policies. World Smoking & Health, 15, pp. 16-17.

Weis, W. L., & Wick, N. (April, 1985). Increasing productivity through on-site smoking control. Health Care Strategic Management, pp. 16-19.

  1. Higher rates of absenteeism (smokers average roughly 50% more sick leave than nonsmokers)
  2. Shortened equipment life (e.g., computers exposed to smoke)
  3. Higher cleaning and maintenance costs (e.g., draperies, carpets, furniture)
  4. Higher health, life, and property insurance costs (smokers require health care 50% more often than nonsmokers)
  5. Loss of worktime due to smoking activities
  6. More fires and other accidents
  7. Cost of separately ventilated smoking areas
  8. Employee discomfort and illness from second-hand smoke (one study found that 59% of nonsmokers reported discomfort with second-hand smoke)
  9. Difficulty hiring employees who are sensitive to smoke (e.g., people with asthma, allergies, heart conditions)
  10. Loss of customers and clients who prefer a smokefree environment (e.g., pregnant women)
  11. Cost of early retirement and working age mortality (the working age mortality rate is twice as high for smokers as nonsmokers)
  12. Reduced employee moral (94% of Americans favor workplace smoking restrictions)

Some business owners worry that a smokefree policy will lead to a loss of workers who smoke, but research shows that only 2-4% of businesses lose employees due to no-smoking policies. Instead, employees often respond favorably to a smokefree workplace. Office on Smoking and Health. (1997). Making your workplace smokefree: A decision maker's guide. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sorensen, G., Rosen, A., Pinney, J., Rudolph, J., & Doyle, N. (1991). Work-site smoking policies in small businesses. Journal of Occupational Medicine, 33, 980-984.

For tips on how to implement a no-smoking policy in your organization, see How to Create a Smokefree Workplace. Or for a more general guide, see Making Your Workplace Smokefree.

 
 

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