This Is How Much It Costs When Your Employees Smoke

Add up the cost of extra health care, smoke breaks, absenteeism, and lowered productivity, and smokers start to look like a pretty hefty business expense.

More and more companies are discriminating against smokers, either by not hiring them at all (in states where that’s allowed) or making every effort to get them to stop. It’s not particularly nice. But financially, it makes sense.

Smokers cost employers a lot of money—$5,816 a year compared to someone who has never smoked, to be exact. The number comes from new research that tallies the cost of smoke breaks (the biggest expense, at $3,077), additional health care ($2,056), absenteeism ($517), and lower productivity ($462).

Led by Micah Berman, a professor of public health at New England Law, the study reviews previous work on the economics of smoking. As it turns out, smokers aren’t always a net drag. Because they die younger, they tax pension systems for less time—meaning a $296 per year savings overall. Smokers effectively subsidize non-smokers’ retirement.

The most important question may be what companies should do about smokers. Berman recommends sympathy and understanding, while still doing everything to help along the quitting process.

"Most people who smoke started when they were kids and the vast majority of them want to quit and are struggling to do so," he says in a statement. "This is a place where business interests and public health align. In addition to cutting costs, employers can help their employees lead healthier and longer lives by eliminating tobacco from the workplace."

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