Smoking at work ‘costs 5m per day’

SMOKING in the workplace could be costing the Irish economy as much as 5m per day, research has shown.

Health Minister Micheál Martin says the study by UCD economist, Dr David Madden, further strengthened his position on introducing a ban on smoking in all workplaces, including pubs, next January.

A conference organised by the Office of Tobacco Control (OTC) heard yesterday that the economic cost of smoking in the workplace in terms of absenteeism, lower productivity and lost productivity due to illness and death could be as high as 2.07 billion each year.

Dr Madden said a conservative estimate of the economic effect of tobacco smoke at places of employment was 1m every day. However, he explained that figure could increase to 5m each day, even though it remained a fraction of the total cost of the problem to society.

Dr Madden said it was clear that smoking had a direct impact on the competitiveness of Irish business which could be further improved through the introduction of anti-smoking measures in the workplace.

“If the cost of increased absenteeism and smoking breaks alone are considered, it is estimated that workplace smoking cost the Irish economy 385m in 2002. “Depending on other assumptions made, this figure can rise to 2,069m,” said Dr Madden.

Robert Welte of the Germany Institute of Health Economics in Munich said international research indicated that smokers took 20-30% more sick leave that non-smoking colleagues.

Using a combination of data, he gave a conservative estimate that the associated costs of workplace smoking for an employer is 104 per smoker per annum. Mr Welte said smoking was responsible for almost 2% of all sick leave days in the Netherlands.

“Helping smokers to quit should become an important goal for companies in order to increase their productivity,” said Mr Welte. “There is no doubt that smoking-related disease and illnesses are a huge drain on the economic resources of society and employers.”

Paul Crowley of the Central Statistics Office said 1.9 billion was spent on tobacco products in Ireland last year with the average household spending over 1,400.

The conference also heard that a TNS-MRBI study found that 54% of people believe smokers take more work breaks than non- smoking employees.

Commenting on the findings as he opened the OTC conference in Dublin, Minister Martin said the studies would form “a very significant element” of the overall campaign to reduce the incidence of smoking.

“There is still no objective evidence out there which in any way links or suggests that there is an adverse economic impact on the hospitality industry as a result of the smoking ban,” he said. However, the minister acknowledged that debate on the issue was likely to continue “It is my job to convince people about the importance of this measure and also that the world will not collapse in terms of economics or trade in the aftermath of he ban,” he said.

Asked about opposition to the ban within Fianna Fáil Mr Martin stressed that many of his colleagues who had sought a compromise supported the ban in principle. “No one is arguing against the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke,” he stressed.

More in this section