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Should Nonsmoking Employees Get More Vacation Time Than Smokers?

Topics: Work Culture
Smokers break
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Have you ever been the office odd man out when you didn’t join in for an activity that everyone seemed to sneak off to do together? When your coworkers are smokers, and you’re not, it can feel a little weird, and maybe even unfair that someone’s getting a break several times a day and you’re not.

In an office where all things are usually equal in terms of personal space (one cube apiece), lunch breaks (30 minutes or less), and even dress codes (business casual), when one group disappears for five-to-ten minutes several times a day — and you don’t — you might see things as a bit unequal.

So should nonsmokers be granted equal time off for the time that smokers are taking outside to have a puff?

Smokers Take Daily Breaks, Costing Productivity

If you think the 3-6 minutes it takes to smoke a cigarette (on average) isn’t a big deal, you’re wrong. The average smoker uses about one hour a day smoking (that’s if we’re talking a half pack a day — 10 cigarettes). Even if they only smoke half of those during the work day, that’s 30 minutes spent smoking — not working — at work.

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Take what you will from a recent study of 1,000 U.S. smokers conducted by e-cigarette manufacturer Halo; According to their study, “Over 81 percent of smokers said smoke breaks were fair,” while only about 1 in 4 nonsmokers agreed. (I say “take what you will” because for many years, legislation had not yet outlawed vaping in public spaces as they had traditional cigarettes, so many manufacturers wanted to push common smokers to vaping in order to “increase productivity” by cutting out that trip down to the loading dock to smoke. But still, data is data.)

One 2012 analysis of another UK e-cig company’s survey found that out of 500 UK smokers surveyed, “30 percent of those people spent more than an hour each day smoking,” which is equal to half a working day wasted every week. “A similar study from Ireland in 2009 estimated smokers waste an average of seven and a half weeks a year,” Chris Dyches at WBTV wrote.

In his recent analysis of the 2017 Halo survey, Bill Murphy Jr. at Inc. Magazine wrote that “Add up all the time that smokers spend outside on smoke breaks, and it works out to about six full days per year on average.” Which doesn’t seem like a lot, until you’re debating whether to use that vacation day to go to the doctor for that upper respiratory thing you just can’t shake.

Who are some of the worst offenders, according to the Halo study? Murphy writes that “people in the technology, wholesale, and retail fields spent the most time smoking: 20.5 days total in a year.”

Smoking Costs Don’t End with Time Missed at Your Desk

It’s also about time wasted being sick from smoking. Some super fun smoking health facts from the CDC, include:

  • Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States.
  • Smoking causes more deaths each year than the following causes combined:
    • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
    • Illegal drug use
    • Alcohol use
    • Motor vehicle injuries
    • Firearm-related incidents
  • More than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States.

According to a 2014 study published by the National Institutes for Health, the annual costs due to smoking were outrageous, and were even high for those affected by second-hand smoke:

“Experts estimate that between 2009 and 2012, the annual societal costs attributable to smoking in the United States were between $289 and $332.5 billion,” the NIH study reported. “This includes $132.5 to $175.9 billion for direct medical care of adults and $151 billion for lost productivity due to premature deaths. In 2006, lost productivity due to exposure to secondhand smoke cost the country $5.6 billion.”

Would More Nonsmoker Vacation Time Even Things Out?

Think about how you feel when someone comes in late or leaves early and doesn’t get “caught” at work. Now compound that by all the time you, as a nonsmoker, see smokers taking away from their desks. If you wanted justice, would a few extra paid days of vacation feel pretty good? You betcha.

According to the Halo study, “about 80 percent of nonsmokers believed they should get extra vacation time to make up for the extra time off that smokers take during breaks.” In addition, those smokers surveyed thought this additional nonsmoker vacay reward made some sense. One Japanese company is already giving it’s nonsmokers six extra paid vacation days a year.

If you’re a smoker reading this, would getting an incentive to quit in the form of added paid vacation be enough for you to stop smoking for good? In the Halo study, “male smokers said they’d be incentivized to quit smoking if they were given an additional 12 days of vacation per year for doing so; women said they needed 11 days.”


How much extra time off do you think you deserve as a nonsmoker, considering the time smokers take for cigarette breaks? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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