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`No smoking` sign

Smoking at Work both Sides of the Debate about Bans

`No smoking` sign
Rosetta Taylor's image for:
"Smoking at Work both Sides of the Debate about Bans"
Caption: `No smoking` sign
Image by: Stefan-Xp

Businesses in many western nations are now required by law or local regulations to implement policies banning cigarette smoking in indoor workplaces. This means that some employers effectively have no choice in the matter, but they may still be interested in considering what positive or negative impacts such a policy may have on their business and workforce. Where no government rules exist, the pros and cons of instituting workplace restrictions or bans will be of great interest to business owners and managers who have yet to make up their minds on this contentious issue.  

• Pros of a workplace smoking policy

1. Reduces health risks for employees

Passive smoking has been widely recognized as a significant health risk. Secondhand Smoke – What it means to you, a booklet published by the US Surgeon General, explains that this kind of involuntary smoking causes heart disease and lung cancer. It can also have serious health consequences for the unborn children of pregnant women. Separate ‘No smoking’ areas, opening a window or filtering the air do not offer protection from secondhand smoke. Only a total indoor smoking ban will do this.

2. Improves interior air quality

A smoke-filled environment is not conducive to productivity. When one or more smokers is working with others in a small office, the air quality quickly deteriorates, and in open-plan environments the smoke enters the air conditioning system and spreads to everyone. The benzene in cigarette smoke can cause drowsiness and dizziness even in employees who are not themselves smokers. A workplace smoking policy which discourages or even bans smoking altogether inside buildings is likely to lead to increased staff output.  

3. Lowers fire risk

Dropped cigarettes and incompletely extinguished cigarette ends constitute a major fire risk. A smoking ban will significantly reduce the risk of a fire being started in this way, and could also shrink the company’s insurance premium.

4. Cuts cleaning costs

Smoky air, overflowing ashtrays and dropped cigarette ends not only combine to make the working environment unpleasant, they add to the cost of cleaning. Walls and other surfaces become stained more quickly, and cigarette burns and ash take their toll on carpets and furniture. Businesses can save a lot of money by introducing a workplace policy which discourages smoking.

5. Improves the company’s image

Nothing is more off-putting for a client than being attended to by employees with cigarettes dangling from their lips. It demonstrates not just a casual attitude, but one of disrespect. A policy which at least forbids smoking in the presence of customers or visitors will go a long way towards improving the way a business is assessed by others.

6. Lessens the likelihood of litigation

Since the damaging effects of cigarette smoke have been so widely reported, any business whose management decides not to implement a workplace smoking policy lays itself open to future compensation claims. Current and even former employees who contract a serious illness which could be proved to be caused by the presence of cigarette smoke have an opportunity to make a claim against their employer for compensation, and more and more of them are currently doing just that.   

7. Tends to encourage quitting

Smokers already have many reasons to quit, including known health risks, the prohibitive cost and the stigma of addiction. Adding just one more factor, the evident disapproval of their employer and the steps taken to discourage workplace smoking, may be all that it takes to finally tip the balance and make them seriously consider giving up their risky, expensive and inconsiderate habit.

• Cons of a workplace smoking policy

1. Causes resentment among die-hard smokers

There will always be some people who continue to smoke despite all the evidence about health, finances and addiction. To them, a workplace anti-smoking policy may seem unfair and unreasonable. They may well feel that they are being unjustly targeted and cast in the role of pariahs. These people could be some of your best and longest-serving employees, and not only are you offending them, you could also risk losing them to a more smoker-friendly workplace.

2. Increases down time of smokers

Smoking at the desk or in the factory, while it may pollute the air and possibly increase fire risk, does not take the workers away from their work. They can still answer the phone, use a computer, possibly serve customers and even operate machinery if safety regulations permit. However, as soon as special smoking areas or an outright ban on indoor smoking are introduced, smokers must leave their work station and go outside to indulge in their habit. In multi-storey office buildings and large factories the journey to an outdoor zone may be a long one. Add to this the fact that a group of smokers may be tempted to extend their stay outside in order to chat and socialize, and cigarette breaks can become protracted affairs. If staff are not limited smoking during mealtimes and other official breaks, a ban on indoor smoking becomes very expensive and can send productivity into a downward spiral.    

3. Triggers complaints by non-smokers about time wasted by smokers

The fact that smokers are absent from their work station for long periods does not go unnoticed by their more abstinent colleagues. The resentment of the ban by smokers pales into insignificance alongside the torrent of complaints from non-smokers, who see themselves as the victims when others are absent for fifteen or twenty minutes on multiple occasions each day. A previously cheerful workplace can quickly degenerate into a hotbed of antagonism.

Although the points in favor of a workplace smoking policy both outnumber and outweigh those against it, there will always be a downside to any restrictions on employee behavior.  Yet as long as employees continue to smoke during working hours, wherever they happen to do it, the risks to their health and the other harmful effects on the company’s bottom line will continue. So plan to combine smoking restrictions with programs to help your staff quit smoking. Offer managerial and peer group encouragement, and, if you can afford it, free medical assistance, nicotine replacement therapy, hypnotism, financial incentives, whatever it takes. The expense of having a workplace smoking policy may be significant, but there is absolutely no doubt that the cost of employing unrelenting smokers will be that you will watch some of them pay the ultimate price.


More about this author: Rosetta Taylor