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ARCHIVED - Smoking and the Bottom Line: The Costs of Smoking in the Workplace

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Table Of Contents

About the Conference Board

The Conference Board of Canada is an independent, not-for-profit research organization with affiliates in the United States and Europe. Our mission is to help our members anticipate and respond to the increasingly changing global economy. We do this through the development and exchange of knowledge about organizational strategies and practices, emerging economic and social trends and key public policy issues. Since 1954, the Board has been committed to researching innovative practices, designing new strategies and providing our members with the most up-to-date information, analysis and expertise to help them excel in Canada and around the world.

About the Custom Economic Services Group

The Custom Economic Services Group is a research division at The Conference Board of Canada. The Group's purpose is to address the specific information requirements of the Conference Board's members by conducting financed research. Services include customized economic forecasting at the municipal, provincial, and national levels; economic impact analysis; custom-tailored econometric models; consumer and business attitudes surveys; and analysis of the economic implications of changes in public policy.

Preface

The study was made possible through funding by the Tobacco Demand Reduction Strategy of Health Canada. In keeping with Conference Board guidelines for financed research, the design and method of research were determined solely by The Conference Board of Canada. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of Health Canada.

  • The research was carried out by Peter Lok, Senior Research Associate, under the direction of Marie Burrows, Director of the Custom Economic Services Group.
  • A Conference Board of Canada report from the Custom Economic Services Group
  • Vice-President & Chief Economist: James G. Frank
    Director: Marie Burrows
    Researchers: StÚphane Arabackyj, Brenda Lafleur, Peter Lok, Robert Squires
  • ę1997 The Conference Board of Canada*
    Printed in Canada, All Rights Reserved
    * Incorporated as AERIC Inc.

Report Highlights

  • Many employers in Canada are unaware of the costs associated with smoking in the workplace.
  • Previous studies on the costs of employing smokers, conducted in the 1980s, are in need of updating.
  • This report calculates some of the costs associated with employing a smoker as compared to an otherwise similar non-smoker.
  • Four cost factors are quantified: increased absenteeism, lost productivity, increased life insurance premiums, and smoking area costs.
  • The results are contained in Summary Table 1, and are presented in dollars per smoking employee on an annual basis.
  • Armed with this information, employers will be better equipped to evaluate the potential benefits of implementing workplace smoking cessation programs and/or policies
  • An employer considering a smoking cessation program can calculate cost savings using data that are tailored to their organization.
Summary Table 1 - The Annual Cost of Employing Smokers (1995 $ per employee)
Cost Factor Cost
Increased absenteeism $230
Decreased productivity $2,175
Increased life insurance premiums $75
Smoking area costs $85

Source: The Conference Board of Canada.

Introduction

The issue of smoking in the workplace is increasingly relevant to the bottom line of Canadian employers. In October 1996, for example, the Alberta Workers' Compensation Board ruled in favour of claims brought forth by four prison guards. The Board found that second-hand smoke aggravated previously existing medical conditions. In effect, the ruling recognized Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) as a workplace hazard.

The medical evidence on the effects of smoking is both comprehensive and compelling. Health Canada estimates that 21 per cent of all deaths in Canada can be attributed to smoking.1 But what are the costs to the employer?

Background

Numerous studies have quantified the various costs of smoking. Some of these studies examine the costs imposed on society. Others approach the issue by examining the costs borne by the health-care sector. Finally, some of this research quantifies the costs from the standpoint of the employer.

Despite the profusion of research, a number of employers are still unaware of the costs associated with smoking in the workplace. According to a recent study by The Conference Board of Canada, Smoking Cessation Initiatives in the Workplace, concerns about employee health and the impact of second-hand smoke were the most important factors in the decision to implement smoking cessation programs. Due to a lack of awareness of these costs, the study concluded that:2

In 1989, Labour Canada conducted a cost-benefit analysis of smoking in the federal public service as part of an assessment of regulations restricting smoking in the workplace. Although widely quoted in a variety of articles, Labour Canada's estimates were based upon the specifics of the federal public service at that time. Other organizations, such as Dow Chemical and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, have conducted similar studies, but they too are now at least 10 years old.3

Study Purpose

This study estimates the incremental costs of employing a worker who smokes, compared to employing an otherwise similar non-smoker. The calculation of these costs is made from the perspective of the employer. With this information, employers will be better equipped to evaluate the potential benefits of implementing workplace smoking cessation programs and policies.

It is important to note from the outset that the costs calculated in this report are, by necessity, general in nature. That is, the costs are based on a number of assumptions that may not hold for every employer. As such, the cost estimates should be considered "ball park"-that is, they provide a general indication of the incremental costs of employing a smoker. Employers that are considering an evaluation of a smoking cessation program and/or policy can perform similar types of calculations based on their own data.

Layout of the Report

This report is presented in four chapters. After the Introduction, Chapter 2 contains the study methodology, along with the sources of data. Chapter 3 contains the results for each cost factor quantified in the study. A discussion of the results and conclusions for the study are presented in Chapter 4. A summary of the report has also been included that highlights the principal findings of the study.

Methodology and Sources of Data

This chapter describes the methodology employed to calculate the incremental costs of smoking to employers (the formulae used for the calculations are contained in Annex A of this report). As with most studies of this genre, the calculations are based on a number of assumptions. These assumptions are discussed; the sources of data used in the calculations are also provided.

General Approach

The costs of employing an employee who smokes, compared to an otherwise similar non-smoking employee, can accrue from a number of different sources. This study develops estimates for four cost factors as follows:

  1. Increased absenteeism;
  2. Decreased productivity;
  3. Increased life insurance premiums; and
  4. Smoking area costs.

This list of costs is by no means exhaustive. In addition, not all of these costs will apply to every organization. Even if the costs do apply, the underlying assumption that the calculations are based on may not hold for the specific situation of every employer.

Many of the cost factors examined will vary in amount depending on the smoking policies enforced in the workplace. Chart 1 illustrates the smoking policies in place in Canada in 1994.

Policies on Smoking in the Workplace, 1994 (per cent)

Policies on Smoking in the Workplace, 1994 (per cent)

Source: Health Canada, Survey of Smoking in Canada.

The data, taken from a survey conducted by Statistics Canada on behalf of Health Canada, revealed that 39 per cent of Canadian employees report a total ban on smoking at their place of work.4 When smoking is permitted at work, nearly the same amount (41 per cent) have restrictions on the location. The balance indicated that there were no smoking restrictions where they worked.

The cost factors are calculated from the perspective of the employer. That is, these costs are incurred by the employer due to smoking in the workplace. Wherever possible, 1995 data were used in the estimation of the costs. As a result, the cost estimates for each factor are denominated in terms of 1995 dollars per employee per year. Where data were not available for 1995, the year from which the data were taken is noted and are adjusted to 1995 where appropriate.

1. Increased Absenteeism

Many epidemiological studies have noted that smokers tend to be absent from work more than non-smokers.5 The 1994 General Social Survey (GSS), conducted by Statistics Canada, reveals that non-smokers are absent 1.8 fewer days annually than smoking employees (see Chart 2). If employees are paid for their sick leave, as is the case in many Canadian workplaces, absenteeism imposes a real cost on employers.

To calculate the costs due to increased absenteeism, the difference between the annual number of sick days taken by smokers and non-smokers is multiplied by the average daily payroll cost.

Absenteeism-Never Smokers and Ever Smokers, 1994 (number of days per annum)

Absenteeism-Never Smokers and Ever Smokers, 1994 (number of days per annum)

Note: The term, "Ever Smoker" combines current smokers and former smokers.

Source: Health Canada, Survey of Smoking in Canada.

The average number of sick days taken by ever smokers (combines both current smokers and former smokers) is 13.5 days annually according to the 1994 GSS. The corresponding figure for never smokers (defined as persons who have never smoked) is 11.7 days. The difference between the two is the extra sick days taken by smokers.

The average daily wage is derived by dividing the average weekly wage (industrial composite) for 1995 by five working days. Using this approach, the average daily wage in 1995 was $112.6 This amount represents the wages or salary received by the employee but underestimates the actual payroll cost to the employer. By law, employers must make contributions on behalf of their employees to various federal and provincial programs. These programs include the Canada/Quebec Pension Plans (CPP/QPP), Employment Insurance (EI), provincial health plans, the Workers' Compensation Plan and other payroll taxes. In additions, many employers contribute voluntarily to employee benefit plans. The cost to employers of these payroll taxes and benefits was estimated to be about 15 per cent of wages using national data from 1995.7 In order to calculate the actual payroll costs, these taxes and benefits were combined with the average weekly wage.

2. Decreased Productivity

This second cost category quantifies the cost to employers resulting from employees taking cigarette breaks during the course of their work day. The calculation applies only to employers that do not permit employees to smoke in their immediate work area. Employees that are permitted to smoke in their immediate work area, however, impose other costs that are not quantified here.

The annual loss in productivity that results when employees leave their work area to have a cigarette is calculated by multiplying the time taken for cigarette breaks by the average wage.

According to surveys, the average Canadian smoker consumes about 19 cigarettes per day. A Conference Board study on smoking cessation in the workplace, for example, reports that males smoke about 20 cigarettes a day and females smoke about 18 cigarettes a day, with a weighted average of 19 cigarettes a day for both sexes.8

Assuming an eight hour sleeping period, an eight hour shift or work day accounts for half of an employee's waking hours. Where smoking is not permitted at the employee's workstation, a smoker will typically consume more cigarettes outside working hours so that simply allocating half of the cigarettes smoked during the course of a day to the workplace would likely be an overestimate. To be conservative in our calculation, therefore, it is assumed that one-quarter of the cigarettes smoked during the course of a day (i.e., 5 cigarettes) will be consumed during working hours. With one cigarette consumed during each of two breaks and one during lunch hour, this leaves two cigarettes smoked at times that are not designated break periods.

The time taken to smoke a cigarette is assumed to be 10 minutes. Five minutes are required to travel to the smoking area and return to the employee's work area. In total, 15 minutes are required for each cigarette break. With 2 cigarettes smoked in non-designated break periods, a total of 30 minutes is lost to the smoking ritual each day.9

The average hourly wage (industrial composite) is used to calculate the opportunity cost of the time lost to the smoking ritual. The average hourly wage (industrial composite of both salaried and hourly paid employees) for 1995 is $16.87. As with the calculation of absenteeism cost factor, the hourly wage underestimates the actual payroll cost to the employer. The hourly wage is therefore increased by the amount of benefits paid by the employer on behalf of the employee.

The number of work days available in one year is derived as follows. From the 365 days in a calendar year, deductions are made for weekends (104), statutory holidays (10), vacation (15) and sick days (9).10 Summing these deductions results in 138 non-working days in a year. This calculation produces 227 working days.

3. Increased Life Insurance Premiums

For over a decade, life insurance companies have provided a "discount" for individual non-smoking policy holders, which reflects their lower morbidity rates and increased life expectancy relative to smokers. At present, this discount is not commonly available in the group life insurance plans paid for by many Canadian employers.

Because of the increased level of claims submitted by smoking employees, however, over time employers will experience higher premiums than otherwise similar employers with fewer smokers. The converse is also true--the lower claims experience of non-smoking employees will reduce premiums over time. The speed with which the premiums increase or decline depends on the size of the organization. In general, the claims experience of larger employers (i.e., 400+ lives insured) receive greater credibility than those of smaller employers. As a result, although Canadian insurance companies may not provide a discount for non-smoking employees directly, over time the lower level of claims associated with non-smoking employees will reduce premiums.

On individual policies, actuarial experts have developed tables of life insurance premium discounts for non-smoking policy holders that vary depending on the age and sex profile of the applicant. Using a 35 year old male as an example, the discount for a non-smoker can be as high as 50 per cent that of an equivalent smoker. 11

The higher cost of life insurance premiums due to the smoking employee is calculated by applying the average discount for individual policies (35 per cent) taken from a sample of Canadian life insurance companies provided by LifeGuide. The average group life insurance premium is estimated by taking the total amount of premiums paid in 1995 and dividing by total employment in the same year.12, 13 Using national smoking prevalence rates for 1994, an estimate of the increased premium cost imposed by smoking in the workplace is provided.

4. Smoking Area Costs

The fourth and final cost factor considered in this study is composed of the costs of constructing, operating and cleaning a smoking area on the workplace premises. This cost factor is calculated on the assumption that smoking takes place in a separately ventilated smoking area. However, this cost will vary depending on where the smoking activity is permitted to take place.

The cost of constructing and operating a separately ventilated smoking area will depend on a number of design factors. If the designated room is next to an exterior wall, a contractor can be hired directly to install a wall fan that will keep the room under negative pressure. A more complicated setup might require engineering and architectural studies, additional duct work and devices such as a heat recovery ventilator. As a result, estimates provided from a number of building science engineering companies range from $2,000 (for a contractor installing a wall fan) up to $20,000 for the more complicated setup. The average of these two estimates ($11,000) was used in the calculation, amortized over 10 years. Annual operating costs were assumed to be 5 per cent of the initial capital cost ($550). The smoking area is assumed to accommodate 25 smoking employees.

The cleaning costs are based on cleaning the area of the building where the smoking activity takes place. The ashtrays that are kept in these areas must be emptied, usually on a daily basis. In addition, the smoking area must be swept or otherwise cleaned, usually on a weekly basis.

Cost Estimates

This section contains estimates of the individual cost factors, provided in terms of 1995 dollars. Table 1 (see below) summarizes the results.
The increased absenteeism due to smoking results in a cost of about $230 per smoking employee every year. This amount reflects the cost to the employer from the nearly two days of additional leave taken by each employee who smokes.
The average cost to employers due to the decreased productivity of employees smoking in non-break periods is estimated to be $2,175 per smoking employee per year. This amount covers the cost to the employers when smoking takes place on company time.
Using average life insurance premium discounts for individual non-smoking policy holders and applying these discounts to the average premiums paid by Canadian employers for group plans results in an estimated savings of about $75 per smoking employee annually. Note that these cost savings are for life insurance only-long-term disability, medical and dental health insurance premium savings are not included.
The cost of constructing and maintaining a separately ventilated smoking area is estimated to be $65 per employee annually. With annual cleaning costs of about $20, the total cost is for the smoking area is estimated to be $85 per smoking employee annually.
Table 1 - The Annual Cost of Employing Smokers (1995 $ per employee)
Cost Factor Cost
Increased absenteeism $230
Decreased productivity $2,175
Increased life insurance premiums $75
Smoking area costs $85

Source: The Conference Board of Canada.

Discussion of Results

This final chapter discusses whether cost savings presented in the previous chapter can be achieved by employers who undertake a smoking cessation program and/or policy for their employees.

Can Cost Savings be Realized?

Armed with information on the incremental costs imposed by smoking in the workplace, what are the prospects for achieving cost savings by implementing a smoking cessation program and/or policy? Clearly the cost of the program/policy will play a role, along with its effectiveness in reducing the incidence of smoking. That aside, if one additional employee who smokes becomes a non-smoker, will any savings be realized?

The answer to this question hinges on a number of factors. Each of the cost factors estimated in this study are calculated on the basis of assumptions. If these assumptions do not hold for the employer, cost savings may not materialize. For example, in some companies, employees who smoke put in an extra half hour of work each day to compensate for the time spent on smoking breaks. For these employers, the lost productivity cost factor estimated in this report clearly won't apply.

Another caveat on achieving cost savings stems from the use of averages in the calculations. The cleaning and maintenance costs, for example, were calculated on the basis of the average cost per employee. Should a single employee stop smoking at work the cost reduction experienced by the employer would be marginal. For example, with only one less smoker, janitorial staff would still be required to clean the smoking area. It would only be with a significant reduction in smoking in the workplace that the employer would begin to notice a cost savings.

Smoking does impose costs on employers.15 The magnitude of such costs are best evaluated on an individual basis using employer-specific data. By making such a calculation, management will be in a better position to determine whether cost savings can be achieved and over what time period. By comparing the cost savings with the costs of a smoking cessation program and/or policy, employers will be able to make informed decisions on whether or not to implement such a program or policy based on the costs associated with smoking.

Annex A: Formulae for Cost Calculations

1. Increased Absenteeism

The calculation of the annual cost of increased absenteeism per employee is based on the following formula:

Formula

where:

  • COSTABSENT = annual cost due to increased absenteeism (in dollars per employee)
  • DAYSEVER = average number of sick days taken annually by "ever" smokers
  • DAYSNEVER = average number of sick days taken annually by "never" smokers
  • DAILYWAGE = average daily wage (industrial composite)
  • BENEFITS = benefits paid by the employer on behalf of the employee (ratio)

2. Decreased Productivity

The annual loss in productivity that results when an employee leaves their work area to have a cigarette is calculated by use of the following calculation:

Formula

where:

  • COSTPROD = annual loss in productivity (in dollars per employee)
  • CIGS = average number of cigarettes smoked per day at work during non-designated break periods
  • TIME = time taken to smoke cigarette in minutes
  • MINUTES = number of minutes in an hour (60 minutes)
  • WAGEAVERAGE = average hourly wage-industrial composite (dollars)
  • BENEFITS = benefits paid by the employer on behalf of the employee (ratio)
  • DAYSWORKED = number of days worked per year (days)

3. Increased Life Insurance Premiums

The formula for calculating the annual incremental life insurance premium between employees who smoke and non-smoking employees is:

Formula

where:

  • COSTLIFE = annual loss in life insurance premiums (dollars per employee)
  • PREMIUMAVERAGE = average group life insurance premium per employee-both employer and employee contributions (dollars per employee)
  • EMPLOYER = percentage of group life insurance premium paid by employer (ratio)
  • DISCOUNT = average discount for non-smokers on individual life insurance (ratio)
  • %SMOKE = percentage of the population that smokes (ratio)

4. Smoking Areas Costs

The increased cost of a smoking area is divided into two items: the cost of constructing and operating a separately ventilated smoking area; and the cost of cleaning and maintaining the smoking area.

a) Capital and Operating Costs for a Separately Ventilated Smoking Area

The formula for calculating the annual cost of constructing and operating a separately ventilated smoking area is:

Formula

where:

  • COSTROOM = annual cost of constructing and operating a separately ventilated smoking area (dollars per employee)
  • CAPITAL = capital cost of constructing a separately ventilated smoking area (dollars)
  • SMOKERS = maximum number of smoking employees accommodated by the smoking area (number of employees)
  • AMORTIZATION = the amortization period for the smoking area (years)
  • OPERATING = the annual cost of operating the smoking area expressed as a percentage of the initial capital cost (ratio)

b) Cost of Cleaning and Maintaining the Smoking Area

The formula for calculating the annual cost of cleaning and maintaining the separately ventilated smoking area is:

Formula

where:

  • COSTCLEANING = annual cost of cleaning and maintaining a smoking area (dollars per employee)
  • DAILY = time spent cleaning ashtrays in the smoking area each day (minutes)
  • WEEKLY = time spent cleaning the smoking area each week (minutes)
  • MINUTES = number of minutes in an hour (60 minutes)
  • WORKDAYS = number of working days per year (days)
  • WAGEJANITOR = the average wage for janitorial employees (dollars per hour)
  • SMOKERS = number of smoking employees accommodated by the smoking area (number of employees)
  • BENEFITS = benefits paid by the employer on behalf of the employee (ratio)

Endnotes

  1. Health Canada, Deaths in Canada due to Smoking, (Ottawa: Health Canada News Release, November 1996).

  2. The Conference Board of Canada, Smoking Cessation Initiatives in the Workplace, (Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 1995), p. 26.

  3. Herbert Mills, Economic Implications of Smoking in the Workplace, (Vancouver: Insurance Corporation of B.C., 1985).

  4. Health Canada, Survey of Smoking in Canada (Cycle 2), (Ottawa: Health Canada, November, 1994).

  5. For example: Robert L. Bertera, "The Effects of Behavioural Risks on Absenteeism and Health Care Costs in the Workplace," Journal of Occupational Medicine, Vol. 33, No. 11, November, 1991, pp. 1119-1124; or Bruce Hocking, Heather Grain and Ian Gordon, "Cost to Industry of Illness Related to Alcohol and Smoking: A Study of Telecom Australia Employees," The Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 161, October 1994, pp. 407-412.

  6. It is worth noting that the formula for the cost of absenteeism estimated in this study is likely to result in an underestimate of the true cost. A study on absenteeism conducted by The Conference Board of Canada (David Shepherdson, "Estimating the Cost of Absenteeism," unpublished, Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 1992) concluded that the average net cost factor for absent employees is 1.26 times the base hourly wage rate. Of course, the net cost factor does not take into account the lower morale for fellow employees who must shoulder a heavier burden or otherwise deal with the absence. The average net cost factor for absenteeism was not used in this analysis.

  7. These benefits are calculated by dividing Supplementary Labour Income (which includes CPP, QPP, EI, Quebec and Ontario payroll taxes and other benefits paid by the employer on behalf of the employee) by total wages and salaries.

  8. The Conference Board of Canada, Smoking Cessation Initiatives in the Workplace, (Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 1995), p. 19.

  9. In calculating this loss in productivity it is assumed that no productive work takes place during the smoking period and that the time lost to smoking is not compensated for by working longer hours.

  10. The number of sick days is the average number of sick days taken in 1995 according to the Labour Force Survey conducted by Statistics Canada.

  11. Individual life insurance quote from LifeGuideTM for a 35 year old male, based on a $200,000 1 year term, is $152 for a non-smoker and $308 for a smoker.

  12. According to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, total group life insurance premiums paid in 1995 were $2.2 billion.

  13. According to Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey, average total employment in 1995 was 13.5 million.

  14. Workers in the Services to Buildings and Dwellings industrial sector.

  15. Professor William Weis of the Albers School of Business (University of Seattle) notes ten areas where cost savings might accrue to a employer: health insurance; incremental absenteeism; life and disability insurance; fire, liability and industrial accident insurance; ventilation and energy consumption for heating and air conditioning; legal liability; property damage, depreciation and maintenance; time lost to the smoking ritual; employee morale; and corporate image.

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