Smokers miss work more often, cost UK billions

October 31, 2012 / NEW YORK (Reuters Health) / – Smokers miss an average of two or three more days of work each year than non-smokers, according to a new analysis of 29 past studies.

Based on that finding, absenteeism due to smoking cost the UK alone 1.4 billion pounds – or $2.25 billion – last year, researchers calculated.

“Clearly the most important message for any individual’s health is, ‘Quit smoking,’ but I think that message is pretty well out there,” said Douglas Levy, a tobacco and public health researcher from the Harvard Medical School in Boston who wasn’t involved in the new study.

But, he added, “I think (the study) does point to the fact that this is something that doesn’t just affect the individual, it affects the economy as well.”

The analysis included studies conducted between 1960 and 2011 in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the United States and Japan, with a total of over 71,000 public and private sector workers.

Researchers asked the workers about their current and former smoking habits and used surveys or medical and employee records to track how often they were absent over an average of two years.

Combining the results, Jo Leonardi-Bee of the University of Nottingham, UK and her colleagues found current smokers were 33 percent more likely to miss work than non-smokers. They were absent an average of 2.7 extra days per year than people who abstained.

Former smokers fell somewhere in between current and never-smokers when it came to absenteeism.

The researchers calculated that current smokers were still 19 percent more likely to miss work than ex-smokers – so encouraging smokers to quit could help reverse some of the lost-work trends.

“The results of this study suggest that smoking cessation in the workplace could potentially result in cost savings for employers from reduced absenteeism,” Leonardi-Bee’s team reported in the journal Addiction.

The 1.4 billion pounds lost in the UK due to smoking-related absenteeism is only one cost of smoking in the workplace, according to Leonardi-Bee and her colleagues. Others include productivity lost to smoking breaks and the cost of cigarette-related fire damage.