Most of us don’t need to be reminded of the significant health risks associated with smoking, such as:
- heart disease (the main cause of death amongst smokers);
- cancer (e.g. lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, cancer of the larynx and mouth);
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and emphysema;
Despite the risk of significant health damage and potential death (around half of regular smokers will eventually die due to smoking, according to Ash, November 2015), approximately one sixth of the adult population of the UK smokes (22% of men and 17% of women). Encouragingly, this is a significantly lower figure to 1974 when nearly half of the adult population were smokers.
A positive move was made in the UK from 2006-2007 (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and finally England) when it became illegal to smoke in all enclosed workplaces. Employers, managers and those in control of premises are now required to take reasonable steps to ensure that staff, customers, members and visitors do not smoke in buildings. This has been a positive step towards protecting non-smokers from second-hand smoke, which is another major health risk – according to Cancer Research UK, passive smoking can increase a non-smoker’s risk of getting lung cancer by up to a quarter.
The chemicals in cigarettes can cause a whole host of other health effects which, whilst not as terrifying as cancer and heart disease, can be unpleasant and have a significant detrimental effect on an individual’s health. These include:
- raised blood pressure;
- fertility problems;
- worsened asthma;
- eye problems (e.g. cataracts, macular degeneration);
- accelerated skin ageing.
From the perspective of employers, there are significant gains to be made from encouraging staff to give up smoking. A report by the Faculty of Public Health and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine stated that “an estimated 34 million days a year are lost in England and Wales through sickness absence resulting from smoking-related illness”. Further reductions in productivity stem from smokers taking regular smoking breaks at work.
Employees are an organisation’s main asset so keeping them healthy should be considered a priority. Employers are not obliged to help employees stop smoking, but could consider taking some of the following steps to encourage smoking cessation in the workplace:
- Implementing a smoke-free workplace policy.
- Considering where staff smoke outside the building to discourage ‘smoky’ or littered entrance areas.
- Signposting smokers to smoking cessation sessions/support.
- Ensuring that a clear policy is in place concerning smoking breaks for staff, which is fair to non-smoking staff. This might include ensuring that smokers deduct the time taken for agreed smoke breaks from their lunch break.
Free, professional help on all work-related health issues can be sought from Fit for Work via the website or the free telephone Advice Line (0800 032 6235).