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How to Handle and Help Employees Who Smoke (and Those Who Don’t)

Getting people to quit the habit is an uphill battle, but removing barriers to quitting can make a difference.

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BY John Boitnott - 05 Apr 2018

How to Handle and Help Employees Who Smoke (and Those Who Don't)

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

At one time, cigarette smoking was part of everyday office life. Ashtrays could be found in every conference room, as well as atop many desks. As public awareness of the health dangers of cigarettes grew, however, more consumers made the decision to quit smoking, leading to bans in workplaces and other areas across the country.

But the habit hasn't completely disappeared from the consumer landscape. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 15 percent of U.S. adults still smoked as of 2016.

If you're a growing business, this means that you'll likely find a smoker or two on staff at some point. When that happens, it's important to know your options.

Equal Breaks

If you only have one employee, and that employee smokes, this area won't apply to your business until you hire a second worker. At that point, though, you'll need to take a step back and make sure your employees enjoy equal treatment.

If one team member is often rushing off to smoke, non-smokers on staff may eventually grow to resent those extra breaks.

To level the playing field, consider giving non-smokers breaks for things they enjoy doing, such as meditating or going for a walk. You could also allow them to take longer lunch breaks or leave early on Fridays to make up the difference. This may give the smokers an extra incentive to quit, since they'll want that extra time off, as well.

Provide a Smoking Area

While you may not want to encourage smoking, you also don't want your employees smoking in the wrong place.

If you lease space in a building, your landlord likely already has a designated smoking area that is both well-ventilated and out of the way. It should have an ashtray, as well as being not too far from your own office.

If you're traveling as a group, though, a smoking employee can complicate matters. One team member could be intolerant to cigarette smoke or, even worse, allergic.

In that case, you'll have to find a way to make sure that employee is protected without getting in the way of the smoker's need to indulge their habit. Plan ahead for these trips by contacting the hotel to make sure there's an easily accessible smoking area.

Invest in Wellness Programs

Some employers are anti-smoking due to its cost to their own businesses. But weeding these employees out during the hiring process may not be an option. More than half of all states have laws that protect smokers against discrimination in hiring practices, according to the American Lung Association.

Smokers may be protected during hiring, but there are no laws in place that keep insurance companies from hiking up their premiums.

One way to help with this is to invest in a wellness program for your business, tying it to your healthcare plan. This can help keep premiums low for nonsmokers while also giving workers access to smoking cessation tools.

Offer Support

Whether you choose a wellness program or not, you should make sure all employees have the resources they need to improve their overall health. Instead of bringing in doughnuts and muffins, keep healthy snacks in the office for employees. Set a good example by living a healthy lifestyle yourself.

One way to help everyone is to bring in a personal trainer or nutritionist to talk to your team about what they can do to improve their own health. This person won't be able to single out any smokers in the room, but they could address smoking along with other issues. The lesson may be the perfect thing to convince an employee to seriously try to quit.

You probably know that many smokers would quit if they could, but they just enjoy it too much or aren't ready to take on such an intimidating challenge. Remember, cigarettes are specifically designed to addict people, so you're facing an uphill battle when you encourage someone to quit.

Still, today's smoker could be tomorrow's "former smoker" with the right support. Many smokers are well aware of the dangers, so reminding them of that likely won't help. But when they know they have access to positive influences and smoking cessation tools, it does remove barriers to quitting, making it easier if they do decide to stop smoking.