With the release of 2006 Surgeon General’s Report on Exposure to Secondhand Smoke, businesses began to take a closer look at the burden of tobacco use in the workplace.
Prior to that time, very few employers had a “no smoking” policy. If they did, it was primarily for safety reasons – i.e., they handled flammable materials. Smoking cessation assistance for employees who smoked was also nonexistent.
The report concluded that secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure caused heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer, had immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, and caused sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma attacks in children.
The report also concluded there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure and advised that regulating smoking through smoke-free policies was the most effective way to protect individuals from exposure.
There was also a strong business case for a smoke-free workplace. According to a study at Ohio State University, an employee who used tobacco would cost his employer an additional $5,800 annually. The additional costs were attributed to increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, increased health and life insurance premiums and claims, increased cleaning and maintenance expenses, more property damage and related expenses, higher fire insurance premiums and costs of fires caused by smoking, and greater potential legal liability.
The most cost-effective way to reduce these costs is to reduce the number of smokers in the workplace. The most effective type of workplace smoking policy is one that does not allow smoking in any indoor areas of a workplace and is paired with employer-provided cessation services for workers who want to quit their use of tobacco.
Cessation programs are relatively low-cost, and studies show that they yield financial returns for employers over the short and long term that far outweigh their costs.
When a workplace policy is implemented, smokers are more likely to consider quitting, to quit at increased rates and to consume fewer cigarettes per day than smokers employed in a workplace with a less restrictive policy or no policy in place.
Smoke-free workplace policies impact employers, workers and workplaces in many ways. They eliminate workers’ exposure to secondhand smoke while at work; help lower smoking rates among workers; improve the health, attendance and productivity of the workforce; and reduce many additional costs associated with tobacco use, including health care costs.
The goal of a smoke-free workplace policy is to promote a healthy and productive work environment for all workers, smokers and nonsmokers alike. A policy should clearly communicate an employer’s concern for the health and well-being of all employees and be designed to treat all workers fairly, without attacking smokers or promoting anti-smoker messages. To achieve the best policy implementation results, tobacco users should be provided with access to comprehensive cessation services.
As the public becomes more knowledgeable about tobacco’s harmful health and economic impact on workers, coworkers, their families and friends, smoke-free workplaces are becoming the norm, much like the attitudinal shift towards smoke-free air travel.