Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Do Smokers Earn Less than Non-Smokers?

This is really just simple arithmetic but it proves how smokers should be earning less money in the office than a non-smoker doing the same job:

Let’s say a smoker takes two 15-minute smoking breaks. In a big office building, this is probably a little short time-wise: a smoker would need to put his coat on, take an elevator downstairs, go outside, do his or her business, wait for another elevator back upstairs, take their coat off again. It takes significantly longer than 15 minutes in our offices, but let’s just say for argument that they can do it all in 15 minutes. Let’s also say they can manage to productively function in the office with only 2 cigarette breaks in one day.

OK, so two 15 minute cigarette breaks equates to a half-hour of time not doing their job every day. That’s 2.5 hours in a 6-day work week or the equivalent of taking 16.25 days off in a year (over 3 weeks, assuming the smoker works 5-day work weeks). That equates to working 6.25% less than the non-smoker so it is only logical that their salary should be adjusted accordingly.

Our office is currently in the process of debating and facilitating this change. Oddly, we’re getting complaints from the smokers even though there’s no denying the facts when they’re laid out.

But the facts are irrefutable. Aren’t they? (From AboveTopSecret Message Board, 2010).

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Smoking and Wages

There are several statistical researches, looking for correlation between smoking habit and earning abilities of the smokers, claiming that people who smoke earn less money than those who do not smoke. The results of the studies show that smokers earn anywhere between 4% and 11% less money than non smokers.

What isn't so clear is whether the decreased earning is a direct result of smoking or due to other habits that tend to manifest themselves in those who smoke. What is fairly clear is that all the lost wages can't be attributed 100% to the habit of smoking.

In any case, the habit of smoking does lead directly to a number of issues that do decrease a person's wages. An example of this would be missing work more often due to smoking related illnesses.

In addition, smoking can result in a person not getting a job thus limiting the pool of employers where he can offer his services. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National WorkRights Institute estimates that there are more than 6,000 companies in the US which refuse to hire people who smoke.

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The study results might be biased because our democratic society is interested in presenting smokers as low-educated poor youngsters, who cannot totally understand, what they are doing. However, they have several valid points to consider.

Smokers and education

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults with 16 or more years of education had the lowest smoking prevalence (14 percent). Adults with 9 to 11 years of education had higher smoking prevalence (37.5 percent) compared to adults with fewer or more years of education. So, the correlation between smoking habits and education is not so straight-forward, as you see. In any case, having a PHD is probably associated with a healthier life style, including quitting smoking.

Smokers by socio-economic status

The WHO stats also show that smoking prevalence is higher among adults living below the poverty level (32.5 percent) than those living at or above the poverty level (23.8 percent).

A Gallup poll in 2009 also found that a significant number of smokers are of low to moderate income. The survey of more than 350,000 people found that 62 percent of smokers earn less than $36,000 a year, while only around 13 percent made more than $90,000 a year.

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Smokers and health issues

That point is quite understandable. Tobacco indeed negatively affects in general consumers’ health. That means higher absenteeism and lower ability to concentrate on the high-pressure modern working environment.

 Smokers and smoking breaks

If you are a smoker, you know – sometimes you just need to get it, and you cannot think on anything else but bit nicotine to your brain. Smoking is not allowed inside the offices or production facilities, so you need to get out. Some of the employers moved the smoking places far away from the entrances to accommodate the non-smokers request and some city regulations. So, you need to walk there and back. The introductory passage from the message board at the beginning illustrates clearly the HR perspectives.

 Smokers and personal bias

Can you lose promotion only because you are non-smoker? Unlikely… But if you are smoker, that is quite possible. The people, who do not tolerate the traces of tobacco smoke in your clothes, will get involuntary (or voluntary) negative emotions, associated with you as employee, while it is nothing to do with your professional performance. Your manager might also get complaints from your colleagues, customers, or even from people, who report to you.

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Smokers and employer’s financial spending

Not only do employers need to pay more money in lost production costs, they need to pay more to dental insurance and health insurance companies. The smokers tend to have more visits to the dentist and constantly need cleanings and other procedures done. Smoking does cause the teeth to stain, so many smokers will ask for multiple teeth whitening procedures. Now, onto the health insurance amount you will pay for being a smoker. Employers normally pay a portion of your health insurance, but they will be placed into a higher-risk pool if you are a smoker. If they weren't in a high-risk pool, they would be paying less in health insurance and this money would probably wind up as a higher wage for you. Since there are a lot of smokers out there, employers have decided to start charging them more money for the health insurance costs. This means you will probably pay about 15 to 20 percent higher from your co-workers for the same insurance coverage.


While your personal case is not following the general pattern, you may need to take certain precautions at your workplace to reduce the potential negative effect from your bad habit. Try to limit smoke breaks to only “must” cases, or use some substitution if smoking is absolutely not an option during working hours.

Or, even better, quit smoking, and this obstacle will be removed from your list of negative influential factors.

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