Smokers Are Dead Weight at the Office

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Smokers can be deadweights around the office with lower working performance and more sick days taken than their non-smoking colleagues, two new studies suggest.

In one study, researchers monitored the career progression of more than 5,000 women entering the U.S. Navy between 1996 and 1997. Daily smokers, they found, showed poorer job performances than non-smokers.

Compared with non-smoking participants, frequent tobacco users were more likely to quit before serving their full term, were involved in more incidents of early discharge due to bad behavior and displayed a higher rate of personality disorders, researchers report in the current issue of the journal Tobacco Control.

Whether puffing on cigarettes is directly linked to the slacker behavior is uncertain. “Cigarette smoking might simply be a ‘marker’ for other underlying factors, such as non-conformity and high risk-taking, that contribute to poorer performance in the military,” the researchers write.

In a separate new study also published in the journal, researchers analyzed more than 14,000 workers in Sweden between 1988 and 1991.

Participants included men and women between the ages of 16 and 65 with a range of occupations. The study team found that, overall, non-smokers took the least amount of days off while smokers took the most sick leave, an average of 11 extra days—more than 2 full-time work weeks. After adjusting for type of job plus health and socioeconomic factors, they reported the difference in sick leave between smokers and non-smokers to be about eight days, or 1.5 work weeks.

The results from both studies suggest policies that reduce smoking may also reduce the number of sick days and increase worker productivity, which could prove crucial to assessing the cost effectiveness of smoking cessation policies, according to the study teams.

Sara Goudarzi
Sara Goudarzi is a Brooklyn writer and poet and covers all that piques her curiosity, from cosmology to climate change to the intersection of art and science. Sara holds an M.A. from New York University, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, and an M.S. from Rutgers University. She teaches writing at NYU and is at work on a first novel in which literature is garnished with science.