Smoking could cost employers thousands per worker

Smoking's high cost to employers

Smoking is bad for your health, but a new study says it's also bad for your boss' bottom line.

A pack of cigarettes will cost you about seven or eight bucks, but according to Ohio State University researchers, smoking costs the average employer almost $6,000 -- per employee.

"For employers itself, it's about $6,000, but for the health care system, I mean, it's astronomical," said Crystal Dulichand, a tobacco treatment counselor at Lehigh Valley Health Network.

The study looked at lost productivity due to smoke breaks and higher insurance costs. Even after factoring in savings that smokers provide companies -- in pension costs from dying early -- researchers found the net cost is still $5,186 per person.

"They're paying out for sick days, they're paying out for folks that are getting emphysema," said Dulichand.

Some companies, like St. Luke's University Hospital, now refuse to even hire smokers. Others, like CVS, now require employees to take physicals or face a financial penalty. Almost all companies offer wellness programs.

"As these costs continue to rise, they're a factor in the cost of doing business," said Tom Cryole, head of the Lehigh Valley Business Coaltion for Health Care. "The smoking thing, to me, is Step One. If you're going to have a program, you want to start with a smoking cessation program."

LVH offers one such program.

"I want to know, why are you smoking?", said Dulichand. "What are the stressful pieces of your life that smoking is kind of the crutch for?"

How well do those programs work? Croyle thinks the jury's still out.

"I think it's a tough go to quantify it right now," he said.

He said one thing appears certain though.

"Those who engage in risky behaviors are going to end up paying more for their employer-provided health care benefits," said Croyle.

The cost of smoking is going up for everyone.

The study was published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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