Smokers: Cigarettes Affect Health More Than You Realize

Healthnotes Newswire (May 17, 2007)—Instead of giving smoke breaks, employers could better serve their employees—and increase productivity—by helping smokers quit. New research shows that smoking cigarettes leads to people taking more sick time than their nonsmoking colleagues.

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for health, but many people don’t realize that smoking has other costs to society. Not only do the high costs of healthcare for smokers constitute an estimated 8% of all healthcare costs in the United States, it turns out that lost productivity poses an even greater economic burden. But this effect is hard to measure.

A new study, published in Tobacco Control, looked at how much missed work due to sickness is smoking-related. The researchers, based in Sweden, used questionnaires to ask more than 14,000 people in a variety of occupations about their smoking habits and their annual number of days of sick leave. The results were compared with data from national registries that collect information about missed workdays.

The first analysis showed that smokers took an average of 10.7 more sick days in a year than people who never smoked. This number correlated to a 53.5% increase in sick days for smokers compared with those who never smoked. Former smokers averaged three (15%) more sick days per year than people who never smoked.

The data were analyzed again, adjusting for workplace conditions (loud noise, stress, repetitive movements, bad ergonomic positions, and heavy lifting) and health variables (self-reported bad health, activity limitation, work accidents, and chronic diseases). The difference in annual sick days between smokers and those who never smoked decreased when these other variables were taken into account, but was still considerable at 7.67 days.

“The results in this paper provide some of the strongest evidence to date of the relationship between smoking and sick leave,” the study’s authors stated in their conclusion. “The results suggest that policies that reduce and/or prevent smoking may also reduce the number of days of sick leave.”

“We definitely see that smokers are more prone to respiratory infections, chronic respiratory illnesses, and also periodontal disease,” commented Ceil Furlong, RN, who practices nursing at a free health clinic for low-income people in Vermont. “One of the interesting aspects of this study is the high number of sick days the smokers were able to take. In our society, many people with low-paying jobs—the people who are most likely to be smokers—are forced to go to work when they are sick or face the threat of losing their job. Of course, they would be less productive when they are sick. For this reason, research into the real productivity costs of smoking in the United States and other countries would need to look at other variables as well as sick leave.”

(Tobacco Control 2007;16:114–8)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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