To-Bacco or Not To-Bacco, that is the question

So what is the answer?! Whether a smoker or not, we all have our views about the proverbial weed. It polarises and divides opinion, the world over.

Regardless of opinion though, in the month of May, World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is observed around the world every year on the 31st May. It is intended to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence and to draw attention to the negative health effects of tobacco.

I’m often asked about the thorny issue of smoking at work, which is surprising based on the number of people who are giving up. However, it’s a contentious issue indeed!

Research by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) says cigarette breaks still cost British businesses £8.4 billion a year in lost productivity — from smokers who disappear for a cigarette for 10 minutes, four times a day!

Smoking breaks cost employers £1,815 a year for each full-time worker who smokes during working hours. That’s according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). The one-in-five of employees who smoke take an average of 3.9 smoking breaks per day, each lasting 9.8 minutes. The study shows that these employees spend around 4.3 minutes of each working hour on a smoking break. Excuse the bad taste pun, but it is staggering statistics like this that quite literally ‘take the breath away’ from small business owners and managers.

Stats like these are also likely to make non-smokers blood boil too – and a Japanese company made the news not so long ago for giving non-smokers six extra days’ holiday each year to make up for the time that their smoking colleagues spent on smoking breaks. Six extra days! Would you consider doing the same for your staff?

I suspect that innovative measures like this are a smidge too much for smaller businesses to put in place. But smoking breaks can cause quite a bit of disruption and even hostility from non-smokers even though they are pretty much entrenched in workplace norm. So here’s what you do need to know:

No right to smoking/vaping breaks
There is no legal right for an employee to take smoking/vaping breaks.
All adult workers are entitled to a minimum rest break of twenty minutes if they work more than six hours. This break (and any additional breaks you give staff) can be for smoking or vaping, but staff are not entitled to extra time off work for it.
It’s worth noting that employers aren’t obliged to pay for this time out, it depends entirely on what you agree in your terms of employment.

Set out the rules
In your company’s Smoking/Vaping Policy, clearly outline:
• When smoking/vaping can take place, i.e. whether this is prohibited during working hours
• Where smoking/vaping is permitted on work premises
• The rules on smoking/vaping in company cars
• The rules about smoking/vaping on third party premises
• The consequences of breaching the rules

What about e-cigarettes?
Employers can allow staff to vape e-cigarettes at work, but it’s rare. Some employers think that vaping e-cigarettes presents a bad image and others find the water vapour clouds annoying, plus there is some research about passive inhalation of vape fumes – so be warned!
Plus, treating e-cigarette smokers differently to normal smokers could cause further divide in your workplace.
The best option is to apply the same rules to e-cigarettes and cigarettes (and any other ways people smoke). Either update your current Smoking Policy to include e-cigarettes or introduce a separate policy.

I don’t profess to have all the answers, – as I said before, it’s a tricky issue, that will no doubt rumble on and on! But I do know that a fine place to start is with a well-considered, clear and concise, employee Smoking Policy.

If you haven’t yet got one, or you think your current policy needs an update then give me a call or email me today. It might just save you some money.