Prevention System Updates

Launch a stop smoking program to regain lost productivity

Release Date:  Dec 09, 2013

Smoking costs Canadian businesses $11.4 billion annually, reports the Conference Board of Canada, or $4,256 per smoker. However, workplace smoking cessation programs can help employers reduce the number of smokers and diminish their effect on productivity.

"The workplace is an ideal setting to combat smoking," says Fares Bounajm, economist, Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care and co-author of the just-released Conference Board report, Smoking Cessation and the Workplace: Benefits of Workplace Programs.

First, three-quarters of current smokers are employed and most want to quit. Second, employers have a strong incentive to help them quit: smoking is linked to large losses in productivity. Many smokers take unsanctioned smoking breaks during the workday and are more likely to use sick days — almost two and a half more days in 2010 compared to employees who have never smoked. Smokers are also much more likely to go on short- and long-term disability, and have a higher risk of premature death.

Here's how the report breaks down the estimated $4,256 that a smoker cost an employer in 2012:

  • $3,842 per full-time employee in lost productivity for unsanctioned smoking breaks (26% more than a similar Conference Board estimate in 2005)
  • $400 in lost productivity due to absenteeism.

On a more positive note, the report indicates that if companies introduce stop smoking programs they could reduce by 35% the number of daily smokers in their workplace between now and 2025.

Employer stop smoking strategies

An earlier report published by the Conference Board of Canada, Smoking Cessation Programs in Canadian Workplaces, offers a number of key strategies for success:

  • strong policies about a smoke-free work environment
  • relationships with external organizations that have expertise in evidence-based cessation programs, such as public health departments, community pharmacies, or cancer and lung associations
  • an integrated wellness strategy that aligns risk assessment, programming and benefits
  • support from senior leadership
  • targeted and regular communication about the support
  • programs available and how to access them.

In the latest report, the board evaluates the effectiveness of an employer program based on engaging a local pharmacy. Using this community resource allows employers to leverage the growing scope of practice, training, and expertise of pharmacists in evidence-based smoking cessation methods.

Funding for this research was provided by the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC) and Pfizer Canada. CASHC is a five-year Conference Board program of research and dialogue that was launched in 2011. It is exploring various facets of Canada's health care challenge, including financial, workplace and institutional dimensions, in an effort to develop forward-looking qualitative and quantitative analysis and solutions that will make the system more sustainable.

Learn more

Download a copy of these Conference Board of Canada reports:

To better understand the benefits of a comprehensive healthy workplace strategy, check out WSPS's healthy workplace resources.