Ohio State study: Smokers cost employers $6K more annually

By Alexa Carson
Employees who smoke cost their employers almost $6,000 more annually than nonsmokers, according to a recent study conducted by Ohio State researchers.
Lead author Micah Berman, from the College of Public Health and Moritz College of Law, told The Lantern he decided to research this topic when he was asked to give a presentation on policies involving smoking in the workplace, such as smoke-free policies and not hiring smokers. He discovered no studies had been done on the comprehensive costs of employing a smoker versus a nonsmoker.
“It was odd to me that the question hadn’t been answered given that employers were making decisions about smokers in the workplace,” Berman said.
By performing an analysis of previous studies done on individual smoking related expenses to an employer, Berman and his co-authors estimated a $5,816 annual excess expense from discrete costs related to smoking.
These costs include smoke breaks, health care costs, absenteeism and presenteeism, which Berman described as “reduced focus in the workplace due to going through nicotine withdrawal throughout the work day.” The study adjusted for the fact that smokers tend to make less than nonsmokers, and even factored in a “death benefit,” Berman said.
“Companies with defined benefit pension systems may save some money due to the fact that smokers die earlier than non-smokers,” Berman said. “But the cost savings is very minimal.”
Berman said he had expected to find smokers would incur excess costs, but two results of the study surprised him.
“One is the extent of the cost,” said Berman, “and second is the health care costs. Well, everyone’s aware of those, but in fact the majority of the costs weren’t due to health care costs but due to productivity costs from things like smoke breaks.”
Brooke Cavallo, a third-year in strategic communication, said she thinks productivity costs can be an issue between smokers and employers based on what she has seen at work.
“I work in a bar and most of my coworkers do smoke, and we are constantly getting in trouble because they take smoke breaks,” Cavallo said.
Berman said his research takes no position on whether businesses should or should not hire smokers, and focuses on the economical rather than ethical issues related to smoking policies. He believes, however, tobacco cessation programs, which “cost up front but save money over time,” or tobacco-free policies can reduce costs to employers.
Under the tobacco-free policy OSU plans to implement this semester, no tobacco products of any kind are allowed on any OSU property either indoors or outdoors. Previously, the university followed a nonsmoking policy that prevented smoking indoors but had no restrictions on smokeless tobacco or smoking outdoors, except in certain “tobacco-free” areas. The policy began on Aug. 1, but will not be implemented in earnest until January 2014.
Dr. Peter Shields, co-chair of the Tobacco-Free Implementation Committee at OSU, said the “first and foremost reason we are going tobacco free is because we want to have a healthier community.”
Shields is also the deputy director at the OSU James Comprehensive Cancer Center and a professor at the College of Medicine. He said cost was a factor in deciding to implement a tobacco-free policy.
“There are other reasons that follow behind that are not necessarily as important,” Shields said, “and one of those is the cost to the university for faculty and staff who continue using tobacco.”
Berman said he had similar beliefs about the policy.
“I don’t think cost is the most important reason for the adoption of the policy,” Berman said. “But it may end up saving the university money too.”