Smoking’s dire health consequences need no repeating here.
Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. It’s expensive too.
A study from 2013 “estimated that the annual cost to employ a smoker was, on average, nearly $6,000 greater than the cost to employ a nonsmoker," according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health .
Because of the health risks and costs associated with smoking, an employee’s individual choice to smoke impacts the workplace. Costs arise in the form of more medical care, lost productivity and more costly workers’ compensation claims.
How smoking affects workers’ compensation
Smoking can significantly increase the length and cost of a workers’ compensation claim.
It’s one of several contributing factors – along with obesity, diabetes, hypertension and substance abuse – called a comorbidity. The presence of one or more of these comorbidities has been shown to increase an injured worker’s number of medical visits and the overall cost of the claim.
The costs come in two different ways: Studies have shown that people who smoke have higher rates of injury to begin with. On top of that, smokers can take considerably longer to recover from an injury, missing more work and requiring more medical intervention. That means workers’ compensation pays for longer periods of disability and higher medical costs. A more costly lost-time claim can then impact the employer’s future workers’ compensation premiums.
The latest data on smoking and e-cigarettes
While smoking remains a major cause of disease, statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a promising trend away from tobacco use.
Smoking rates are going down – cigarette use has declined to about 15 percent of U.S. adults. And, the CDC reported that nearly 70 percent of adult cigarette smokers want to stop smoking, and 55 percent have attempted to quit smoking within the past year.
Most likely, your employees who smoke would welcome help quitting.
However, the use of e-cigarettes, especially among young people, is trending in the wrong direction.
According to the CDC, about 3 percent of adults were current e-cigarette users in 2016. That same year, a U.S. Surgeon General report cited a 900 percent increase in the use of e-cigarettes by high school students from 2011-2015. Vaping use among employees could be on the rise.
Resources to help employees quit smoking
Employers have a role to play in creating an environment conducive to quitting smoking and connecting employees with the tools they need to do so.
In addition to complying with state and local laws that may prohibit smoking in certain spaces, consider creating a smoke-free workplace policy.
NIOSH recommends smoke-free workplace policies that prohibit tobacco use indoors, in work vehicles and in areas immediately outside building entrances. The evidence shows these policies effectively reduce both smoking rates and exposure to secondhand smoke. Depending on the laws in your state, e-cigarettes may not be included in standard smoke-free laws and policies. E-cigarettes or vapor products may need to be explicitly mentioned in your policy to be included.
Your health insurance plan or employee assistance program could also cover cessation treatment for employees. Making smoking cessation part of your wellness program could add motivation for employees to participate.
The national and state resources listed below are designed to coach people through quitting with personalized support.
- Smokefree.gov : Free, accurate, evidence-based information and professional assistance to help support the immediate and long-term needs of people trying to quit smoking. It includes a texting service and apps.
- American Lung Association
- American Cancer Society