Updated: Oct 20, 2020

The percentage of adults who smoke has dropped significantly over the past 75 years. After the war, over 80% of men smoked – now only around 20% of us are still puffing on the evil weed.

However, that is still one fifth of the population too many. Tobacco is the single biggest cause of preventable disease in the UK and claims more than 100,000 lives a year - from lung cancer, heart disease and breathing disorders such as bronchitis and emphysema.

And, with the current pandemic, it’s even more of an issue than it was. So, as an employer, it’s in your best interests to support your workers to stop.

Need more convincing?!.....

Smoking raises risk from COVID-19

Not only are smokers more likely to contract COVID, possibly partly due to repeated hand to mouth movements, but they are also likely to have more severe disease if they do contract it. . The World Health Organization (WHO) has analysed 35 peer reviewed studies on the association of smoking with COVID-19 - smokers are more likely to develop severe disease from COVID-19 than non-smokers, as well as increased risk of death.

A smaller study, quoted by Public Health England (PHE) suggested smokers being 14 times more likely to develop severe respiratory disease than non-smokers.

Smoking results in a loss of productivity

A smoker who takes two extra ten-minute smoking breaks per day would work around two hours less per week – and may encourage others to take a social break too.

These ‘extra’ breaks may also cause resentment and disturbance amongst colleagues.

Smoking results in greater presenteeism.

Smokers are more likely to suffer respiratory infections – and even if they come to work during an attack, are likely to work below par. Their own productivity will be lower and there is a risk of passing on infections to other members of staff. And that means that everyone ends up self-isolating.

Smoking results in greater absenteeism

Research carried out by the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies shows that current smokers are 33% more likely to miss work than non-smokers and are absent for an average of 2.7 extra days per year…..and those stats were pre-COVID! They are more likely to have short-term absences as well as absences of four weeks or more.

How can you help?

Your rights as an employer are to enforce the 2007 ban on smoking in enclosed workspaces in England so smoking can only take place outdoors. No worker has the right to ‘smoking’ breaks although those who work more than six hours per day are entitled to a statutory rest break of at least twenty minutes (normally in the form of a lunch break).

However, rather than simply adopting a ‘law-enforcement’ role when it comes to smoking, it would make financial sense to support your workers to quit smoking and thus improve productivity and reduce sick leave. Of course, it may not be that easy. Many people use smoking as a stress release – and if any time is stressful, it’s now! But, the added incentive of reducing COVID risk may give your employees the motivation they need to kick the habit and if you can support them, so much the better.

  • The national stop smoking campaign, Stoptober, provides a wealth of support that can last even after October comes to an end – check out this link for lots of free resources. But there are many other ways you can continue to support your workforce to successfully stop smoking.

  • Ensuring your company has a wellness programme in place, including health assessments to underline the importance of quitting, will help in numerous ways.

  • Educational events and charity challenges are possible, even in these socially distanced times!

Research suggests that the majority of people that smoke would like help to stop, and they are 34% more likely to quit when someone they work with stops.

Not only does this emphasise the influence that social networks have on smoking behaviour but also shows how the workplace is an ideal environment in which to support attempts to stop smoking.

So, there's no better time to support your workers to stop smoking - they will benefit, but you and your company will too!


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Breathe Assured is the trading name of Medical Assured Group Ltd Company number 12991100