That Employee Who Smokes Costs The Boss $5,800 A Year

Smoking is expensive, and not just for the person buying the cigs. Employers are taking hard looks at the cost of employing smokers as they try to cut health insurance costs, with some refusing to hire people who say they smoke.

But figures on the cost of smoking have been rough estimates at best, with a very general estimate of $193 billion a year nationwide.

Researchers now say they're got much tighter focus on the number: $5,800 per smoker per year.

And the biggest chunk of that comes not in health care costs, but in work lost during all those smoke breaks. That came in at $3,077, based on an estimate of five smoke breaks during the work day.Many persons love to smoke Classic cigarettes, Marlboro brand and other cigarettes.

"The smoking breaks added up to a lot more than we expected," says Micah Berman, an incoming assistant professor of law and public policy at Ohio State University, who led the study, which was published in Tobacco Control.

The researchers tried to be conservative in estimating the number of smoke breaks, figuring on five 15-minute breaks in an eight-hour workday, three of which took place during sanctioned break times. So the cost could well be higher.

Other costs include more sick days due to health problems, at $517 per smoker, and $462 a year for lower productivity while working because of withdrawal symptoms, which kick in within 30 minutes of that last drag.

In recent years, some hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic, have decided to no longer hire smokers. But more than half of states make it illegal to discriminate against smokers in the hiring process.

Some employers charge higher health insurance premiums to employees who smoke. But that could keep smokers from getting much needed medical care and smoking cessation programs, critics argue. A small number of states have passed laws protecting smokers against a provision in the Federal Affordable Care Act that lets smokers be charged more.

"I'm not sure what impact that is going to have on people making decisions starting to smoke or quitting," Berman says of efforts to put the financial hurt on smokers. "Most people start to smoke when they're minors" — not a time when they're thinking about future health insurance premiums. Quitting, he tells Shots, "is extremely difficult and usually takes a lot of attempts to be successful."

But could smokers turn out to be cheaper hires because they don't live as long, avoiding the need for years of health care and retirement benefits? Not so, Berman says. There's a potential cost savings only if the employer has a defined benefit plan that gives retirees a guaranteed pension, Berman and his colleagues say. Those kinds of retirement plans are increasingly rare.

But if a company has one, they can save $296 a year in pension costs by hiring a smoker, the researchers say. Still, that's far outweighed by the cost of all those smoke breaks.

"Withdrawal" effect in smokers

- For years scientists have discussed the "withdrawal" effect in smokers - the phenomenon that smokers themselves describe as "concentration difficulty" when they have not smoked for several hours. In the anti-smoking lobby it is believed that the phenomenon is a simple abstinence effect that smokers can lift by smoking a cigarette again, and thereby return to the same level of performance as "normal people". 

But this theory no longer holds true after the Heishman analysis. Nicotine in itself creates better performance compared to placebo, whether smokers or non-smokers. But there are scientists who do not believe that the "withdrawal" effect has been proven. 

One of them is nicotine researcher, Professor David Warburton of Reading University, who in a double experiment in 1994 first demonstrated that 100 "abstinent" smokers and 100 non-smokers achieved similar results in three specific figures tests. In experiment no. 2 he repeated the same three tests with only the smokers who were divided into two groups - one that had been "abstinent" for 12 hours, while the second group had smoked one hour earlier: Improvements in performance without nicotine withdrawal . 

Both groups were divided into two subgroups, one receiving regular cigarettes, while the other had fake cigarettes. In one task, participants were told to enter the correct numbers in a certain sequence in 20 minutes - and after the first five minutes they should light up a cigarette and take one puff every minute. The results are shown here: 
Figure 1 - Warburton & Arnall, 1994: - The scale shows the number of correct answers, minute by minute. Participants smoked one puff per minute in the period between the dotted lines, from the 6. minute to the 15. minute. The two top lines are the results for nicotine groups - the bottom two are from non-nicotine groups. Each group consisted of one abstinent group & one non-abstinent group.

Result: The number of correct answers rose in the two nicotine groups with approx. 30% from the third cigarette puff. There was, however, no difference in responses between the "abstinent" and the non-abstinent participants. The two nicotine groups had also significantly 10-15% faster reaction time, (not shown in graph).

- The Warburton trial shows specifically that cigarettes' effect on attention and response time is particularly strong in the ten minutes during which the actual smoking takes place, and in the following minutes. 


Should I Quit Smoking Cold Turkey?

Like many smokers, you might try to quit smoking cold turkey — which means simply stopping smoking altogether on your own — but only about 10 percent of those who try this method actually succeed. Impulsively quitting without planning or preparation is partially responsible for this low success rate. Quitting cold turkey has its advantages, so you might give it a try, but cold turkey is generally considered the most difficult method of giving up cigarettes, and you might find that other methods improve your chance of success.

It is possible for you to quit smoking cold turkey, and there are some good reasons to choose this method over others, most notably price and simplicity. The cost of cigarettes might be one reason you decide to quit, and that savings can be a strong motivator. Spending money on therapy or nicotine patches might feel counterproductive. When you quit smoking cold turkey, you don’t have to practice special resistance techniques, keep appointments or remember when you last put on a patch. Stopping cold turkey relies on nothing other than the will and desire to quit, making it the most straightforward method of quitting.

Although quitting cold turkey means giving up cigarettes completely, with no tapering off and no aids such as nicotine replacement or therapy, you do not have to impulsively stop the moment you decide to quit smoking cold turkey though, and a little preparation can dramatically improve your chances of success. Choose a date to quit — one that is close but not immediate — and mark it on the calendar. Use the time before that date to prepare by getting rid of lighters, ashtrays and other reminders that might tempt you later. Tell your friends and family about your plans and ask for their support.

You will experience withdrawal symptoms when you quit smoking cold turkey, but there are steps you can take to make it easier to deal with them. Exercise, even gentle activity such as walking, not only improves your fitness but provides a distraction. Keep your mouth busy with chewing gum, lollipops or carrot sticks, and if you need something to hold, keep a pen or pencil handy.

Your smoking habit probably included rituals — associations with certain activities and times of the day. You might associate cigarettes with relaxing with a cup of coffee or a beer, or you might feel a stronger urge to smoke in certain places. By being aware of these connections and breaking old routines and staying away from powerful temptations, you give yourself a better chance of staying off cigarettes.

Despite your best efforts, you might find it too difficult to quit smoking cold turkey. Your instinct will be to surrender and go buy a pack of cigarettes. Rather than give up, though, you can build on the progress you have already made by using other techniques, such as nicotine replacement.