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The High Cost of Smoking

By Lisa Schulmeister, RN, MN, APRN-BC, OCN, FAAN
It’s logical to think that smoking employees would cost employers more than non-smoking employees; however, what those costs actually are had not been quantified until researchers from The Ohio State University decided to run some numbers. The researchers reviewed published literature, identified costs associated with smoking employees, and developed a cost estimation approach that approximated the total of such costs for employers in the US They examined absenteeism, presenteesim, smoking breaks, healthcare costs, and pension benefits for smokers.

Previous studies found that smokers were costly to employers because of smoking-attributable productivity losses and medical expenditures, but estimates had been vague and did not distinguish between costs borne by employers and those absorbed by the smokers, insurance companies, or taxpayers. The current study was carried out in the context of some U.S. employers now charging smokers higher premiums for health insurance, and the trend to hire only non-smokers.

The researchers estimated that the annual excess cost to employ a smoker is $5,816, and cautioned that this estimate should be taken as a general indicator of the extent of excess costs and not as a predictive point value. Low productivity due to excess absenteeism costs employers, on average, $517 a year per smoking employee; presenteeism costs $462; smoking breaks cost $3,077; and excess healthcare cost $2,056.  However, because smokers tend to die at a younger age than non-smokers, annual pension costs were an average of $296 less for an employee who smoked.

Bernam M, Crane R, Sieber E, et al. Estimating the cost of a smoking employee. Tobacco Control 2013; June; Online First doi10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050888.
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