Businesses today desperately seek ways to contain the costs they must pay for health insurance for their employees by limiting coverage, subscribing to HMO's, and increasing deductibles. CEO's cast anxious glances over their shoulders as foreign competition increases and the ability to cut costs and increase productivity becomes crucial to survival. Dr. William L. Weis, Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Albers School of Business, Seattle University, has a suggestion which could significantly affect line items in the budgets of American businesses:
The idea is not a revolutionary one, and it is a timely one. The Surgeon General's Report of 1986, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking, noted that "Policies regulating smoking at the workplace for the protection of employees' health are a trend of the 1980s. As of 1986, smoking is restricted or banned in 35 to 40 percent of private sector businesses and in an increasing number of Federal, State and local government offices....Actions to restrict or ban smoking at the workplace are supported by a large majority of both smokers and nonsmokers."
Weis, Kristein and others have found that smoking activity by employees increases costs in many areas. Some of these areas are:
Absenteeism: On average, smokers are absent 50 percent more often than nonsmokers. As long ago as 1974, Dow Chemical Company found that cigarette smoking employees were missing 5.5 more work days per year than their nonsmoking peers. Costs for these absences include temporary replacements and lowered productivity and morale among employees who are on the job and must cope with the absences.
Productivity: One has only to visualize the smoking ritual to realize the time lost by smokers. Add to that inefficiency and errors caused by higher CO levels in smokers, eye irritation, and lower attentiveness. Research is documenting lower productivity in smoking employees and increases in productivity when smoking is limited or banned.
Insurance: Additional health-care cost per smoker in this country is slightly over $300 per year in 1983 dollars, and this estimate is conservative. Some insurers, recognizing the differential in mortality rates between smokers and nonsmokers, are offering up to 45 percent discounts on premiums for term-life coverage for nonsmokers with medical examinations.
Incremental health insurance costs incurred on behalf of nonsmokers who must breathe the smoke in the workplace involuntarily are not a part of the considerations above. They represent another area of potential savings when smoking is either banned or restricted in the workplace.
Economist Marvin M. Kristein, Ph.D., of the American Health Foundation, found that smokers can cost employers an extra $45 per year for accidental injury and related workers' compensation costs. Smokers have twice the accident rate of nonsmokers due in part to loss of attention, smoking hand occupied, eye irritation, and cough. Researchers have estimated fire accident costs due to smoking to be $10 per year per smoker. Dr. Weis says that health and fire insurance premiums can be 25 to 35 percent lower for smoke-free businesses, and morbidity and fire statistics suggest that premium discounts should be as high as 70 percent. Disability and early retirement payments can be cut by as much as 75 percent. Up to three-fourths of the early retirements are probably coming from smokers, who comprise only one third of the work force. The propensity for smokers to become disabled and retire early is almost six times greater than for nonsmokers.
Ventilation: The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers notes that "higher ventilation rates are specified for spaces where smoking is permitted because tobacco smoke is one of the most difficult contaminants to control at the source." Requirements for outdoor air are two to three times greater when smoking is a factor, and filters must be cleaned or changed much more frequently.
Maintenance Costs: Employers who have banned smoking report dramatic decreases in the maintenance costs of their businesses. Building maintenance services are enthusiastic about the change in the amount of cleaning required. Furniture and drapes last longer and have to be cleaned less often. Many chores done on a monthly basis can be scheduled semiannually or annually.
Employers considering limiting smoking should consider the following points. If a collective bargaining agreement exists, consult with union officials. Introduce a thorough program of employee education on the dangers of workplace smoking; stress health effects on smokers and nonsmokers. Decide how the policy will be implemented--either smoking and nonsmoking areas or a totally smoke-free environment with a smokers' lounge or corridor and reasonable smoking breaks (10 minutes every two hours). Consider implementing smoking limitation in steps (e.g., begin by prohibiting it in conference rooms and common areas). Employer-financed smoking cessation programs are well-received and effective, as smokers who wish to quit may be further motivated by the new limitations. Above all, try to maintain an atmosphere of participation among all levels of employees.
While there are no guarantees that a smoking limitation policy will turn businesses around, once your firm establishes a policy, personnel and maintenance costs will decline; actual physical depreciation on furniture and equipment will slow substantially; insurance rates can be slashed through renegotiation for new fire, health, accident and disability coverage; employee morale will improve; and customers and clients will adjust, without adverse repercussions, to the new policy. In other words, it's good business.
Note: This leaflet, distributed as a public service, contains general information. If you have any legal problem related to smoking, you should consult an attorney who will advise you as to the law applicable in your jurisdiction.
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Workplaces nationwide are going smoke-free to provide clean indoor air and protect employees from the harmful, life-threatening effects of secondhand smoke. According to a 1992 Gallup poll, 94 percent of Americans, smokers and nonsmokers, now believe companies should either ban smoking totally in the workplace or restrict it to separately ventilated areas.
- Employers have a legal right to restrict smoking in the workplace, or implement a totally smoke-free workplace policy. Exceptions may arise in the case of collective bargaining agreements with unions.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that the widespread exposure to secondhand smoke in the United States presents serious and substantial public health problems.
- Tobacco smoke represents the single most significant source of pollution in most indoor air environments, particularly office worksites, and has been classified as a Group A carcinogen by the U.S. EPA. Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, both gas and particulates.
- The gas phase of secondhand smoke contains such poisons and irritants as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, acrolein, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, benzene, pyridine, and hydrogen cyanide. The particulate phase contains nicotine as well as many known or probable carcinogens which have no safe level for human exposure.
- The toxins in tobacco smoke kill over 419,000 people per year in the United States. Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke inhale these same toxins with important deleterious health effects.
- Secondhand smoke causes over 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually, as well as exacerbation of lung disease in nonsmoking adults and respiratory problems in children. Secondhand smoke has been proposed to be a major cause of death from heart disease.
- Involuntary smoking has many nonfatal but important effects: breathing secondhand smoke makes the eyes and nose burn, and can cause headaches and nausea in nonsmokers. These irritants can have a major impact on employees' morale, productivity and sense of well being.
- Workers have been awarded unemployment, disability and worker's compensation benefits for illness and loss of work due to exposure to secondhand smoke.
- A smoking employee costs the employer at least $1,000 per year in total excess direct and indirect health care costs, as compared to employing an otherwise similar nonsmoker.
- Smoking costs the U.S. $97.2 billion dollars each year in healthcare costs and lost productivity. These costs include; $50 billion to care for people with smoking-related disease, including $4.5 billion in Medicare and $2.2 billion in Medicaid expenses.
- As of December, 1994, 48 states and the District of Columbia have some restriction on smoking in public places. Of these states, 43 restrict smoking in government workplaces, and 23 have extended those limitations to private sector workplaces.
The following materials, as well as Freedom From Smoking (R) (FFS) group programs, are available from the American Lung Association, 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872):
The study provided conclusive proof that workplace smoking bans have reduced the amount of smoking by people in work.
While non-smoking policies were introduced chiefly to reduce the exposure of non-smokers to second-hand tobacco smoke, the study finds that they have also had an important impact on the behavior of smokers by reducing their opportunities to smoke.
It found that, even after adjusting for other factors, smoking rates had fallen much more steeply among those in work than among the unemployed.
More specifically, the prevalence of smoking among men in work declined by almost 5 per cent more than it did for those out of work between 1976 and 1993.
Fortunately, the trend towards non-smoking workplaces seems irreversible.
In 1985, about 25% of US employees worked in establishments that banned smoking in work areas. By 1993, this had risen to 70%.
Today it is even higher, especially since five states have banned smoking in most workplaces.