Why Should Employers Care if Employees Use Tobacco at Work?

Why Should Employers Care if Employees Use Tobacco at Work

“I’ll be right back. I’m just going to run and grab a quick smoke. I’ll be back in a minute”.

How many times is this heard throughout the workday? A typical “minute” smoke break averages about 10 minutes. Statistically, workplaces have at least two employees that either smoke, use smokeless tobacco, or vape during the day. These tobacco users typically take an additional three to four breaks throughout the workday. That means the typical tobacco user will take an additional 30-minutes to 40-minutes of break time each day, adding up to an additional 2 ½ hours of break time each week. Over a year, these extra breaks equal around 125 extra “break” hours per tobacco user costing employers an estimated $3,750 per year in lost productivity.

What Does Legislation Say?

The Federal Government does not regulate smoking or tobacco use in the workplace. Because of this, smoking regulations vary significantly from state to state. Some states just prohibit smoking in indoor areas. Some others only ban tobacco use indoors and allow employers to designate a tobacco use area for employees. Even if there is no applicable law, employers can have their own workplace tobacco use policies that prohibit tobacco use entirely or limit it to certain areas. While these laws and rules have been challenged in court, they are generally upheld.

Why should employers care if employees use tobacco at work?

Outside the extra costs associated with the additional break time, cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of illness and death in the United States. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently conducted a study of U.S. adults which found that 19.6% of workers are regular tobacco users. The health risks associated with first and secondhand smoke are far-reaching. Research has shown that tobacco users are associated with chronic diseases, including lung cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and reproductive issues.

Another area of concern is discrimination. Smokers should never receive more breaks and time away from work than non-smokers. Doing so could look like smokers receiving preferential treatment and thus discrimination against non-smokers. Smoking, although addictive, can be controlled. An employee should not receive a greater benefit than others. Employers have the right to enforce that smoking and general time away from work duties is restricted. Scheduled break times should not to exceed a set number of minutes per day in accordance with a company’s policy. Anyone needing more frequent breaks would need to discuss their specific situation with Human Resources to see if their situation qualifies for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In addition, OSHA regulates workplace exposure of air contaminants (29 CFR 1910.1000), which prohibits exposure from chemical compounds found in tobacco smoke to exceed certain levels. Yet, even with all of these regulations, laws, and policies, one out of every ten nonsmoking U.S. workers continues to report regular exposure to secondhand smoke while at work.

Employee health and overall well-being is an essential part of establishing a healthy and safe workforce.

Addressing the risks of tobacco use in the workplace and providing tobacco cessation programs for employees is vital to improving individuals’ overall health. Therefore, NIOSH recommends that all workplaces become tobacco-free and that employers make tobacco cessation programs available to workers. These recommendations aim to protect workers from the occupational hazards of tobacco and the effects of secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke and e-cigarettes emissions.

As an employer, what should I do?
  1. First, establish formal Policies regarding tobacco use. When creating these policies, decide what to include (only cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, cigars).
  2. Also, consider what boundaries the policy should follow? For example, will the tobacco-free area only be in certain areas, or will it be on the complete other side of the property?
  3. In addition, think about whom the policy will cover (all employees, customers, vendors).
  4. Another thing to consider is how the site(s) around a “Tobacco Use Area” will be kept (cleaning up cigarette butts, ashtrays).
  5. As well as how to handle employees who smell of smoke while at work; others may have allergies to this smell.
  6. Finally, consider how the policy will be enforced and what the punishment will be for not following the policy. After creating a Tobacco Use Policy, employers must place signs around the facility. These signs should identify where and where not to use tobacco. As well as communicate with all employees regarding the new policy and ensure they completely understand the consequences.
A Tobacco-Free workplace has benefits for everyone.
  • Better health and the health of the employee’s family
  • Workers will not be exposed to secondhand smoke and their associated health risks
  • Tobacco users have a clear company policy regarding tobacco use at work
  • Managers have a process for dealing with tobacco in the workplace
As well as the added benefits of:
  • Reduction of lost productivity
  • Maintenance costs go down when smoke, matches, and cigarette butts are eliminated in and around the facility
  • Office equipment, carpets, and furniture last longer
  • It may be possible to negotiate lower health, life, and disability coverage as employee smoking reduces
  • Lower risk of fire
  • The company brand and image receives better protection

Ultimately, the goal of a Tobacco-Free workplace is to provide a healthy environment for employees and visitors of the Company.

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By: Jon Woodham