Smoking: A Career Killer?

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita:

My co-workers and I were having a discussion over lunch about whether or not smoking can have an effect on your career potential. As a non-smoker, I think smoking not only affects your health but also how people perceive you as an employee. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Thanks!

SmokingHi, Concerned Co-workers:

In my opinion, smoking can definitely have a negative effect on your career. According to a New York Times article, one in every five Americans smoke on a regular basis and, on average, employees who smoke cost employers $3,391 more a year for health care and lost productivity. If your company has 500 employees, this alone can cost almost $1.7 million a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that cigarette smoking costs companies more than $193 billion (i.e., $97 billion in lost productivity plus $96 billion in health care expenditures).

Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking at the effects of smoking on your career or business.

  • The smell of cigarette smoke lingers on your clothing. People who do not smoke may be annoyed, repulsed, or dismissive of those who come in to the office smelling of stogies.
  • Smoking breaks can take a huge chunk of time out of the day. On average, it takes 3-5 minutes to smoke a cigarette. If you look at my post Time Theft: Is It Really a Crime? you can see how much in lost profits just two smoke breaks a day can amount to over the course of the year.
  • Smoking comes with its own set of negative connotations. Hiring employers or managers may view this habit as a red flag and think that the person is negligent or lazy.
  • Studies estimate that smokers are two to three times more often absent from work.
  • Smoking2Smoking may be deal breakers in a company’s hiring policy. More companies are adopting policies that stipulate that smokers will not be hired in states where it is legal to do so. If you are a smoker, you could be limiting your opportunities for hire or advancement. The Towers Watson survey found that 4% of companies have adopted such a policy and 2% more are expected to each year. In the same survey, 52% of companies banned smoking on office property, a number that’s expected to increase to 60% next year. Meanwhile, 42% of companies use surcharges for tobacco users at approximately $50/month to cover health care costs.

Smoking is not only bad for your health; it has the potential to kill your career.

See below for a great video on both sides of the issue:

Readers, what are your thoughts on this issue? Should employers be able to ban smoking at the workplace and be allowed to not hire someone because of their habit?

Best wishes,


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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. teaandcoffeegirl
    Jul 25, 2013 @ 13:26:39

    Amazing to know how much is lost in productivity/health care!


  2. LaDawn Milton
    Jul 24, 2013 @ 08:46:11

    Some people abuse their breaks when they go out to smoke. I worked in a long-term care facility as a unit secretary once. The weekend receptionist would come in at 9:00 and go home at 5:00. No big deal right? Wrong. I got there between 7:00 and 8:00 and went home at 5:00 as well and it was part of my job to cover her for her breaks. She got there at 9:00 am. At 9:15 I walked past one of the patients rooms whose window overlooked the courtyard where we would eat lunch in good weather. There she was, puffing away, trying to keep an eye on the phone just inside the lunch room. So I informed the nurse in charge, and she had the nurses and aides keep track of everytime they saw here out that window. When she called to my desk at 10:30 for her break, the nurse in charge told her that no, I wouldn’t cover her break because she’d already taken it. We kept a tally that day of how many times we caught her out there smoking and “stealing” company time. In a 7.5 hour day, she went out there over 20 times. So yes, I can see were some employers can make policies to hire only non-smokers.


  3. Zephyr
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 09:13:11

    Yes an employer has the right to hire who they want. Now that people no longer have the right to smoke, what about people who drink, the weekend drug users, I could go on and on. I have always tried to treat people the way I want to be treated and to respect them but it seems to be a one way street. Oh what the h!


    • LaDawn Milton
      Jul 24, 2013 @ 08:50:40

      Weekend drug users probably don’t have that problem, as too many jobs today use random drug tests and fire you any way if you pop positive. But I can see your point on the drinking.


  4. Chris Cortez
    Jul 17, 2013 @ 10:24:51

    I think smoking does effect your career


  5. Lou
    Jul 17, 2013 @ 06:33:01

    I myself am tired of smokers being treated like lepers. I am a former smoker, who was always considerate of non-smokers. Yet, obese people are not included in this health issue. Studies show that FAT people cost the medical industry more money than smokers ever did. I see a lot less smokers today, yet go to a amusement park and observe the obese people waddling around. I am also tired of everyone making excuses for fat people, saying “Oh, it must be a medical issue.” The only issue is they can’t stop stuffing McDonald’s in their faces.


  6. Crystal
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 17:54:30

    I would have to say that eliminating smokers is a mistake. I am aware of the health cost rising and etc. but I for one am a smoker. I am hardly ever out, miss work or go to the doctor.
    Most businesses allow for 2 short breaks a day along with a lunch break and having a quick 5 minute smoke break which is a total of 10 minutes away from the desk isn’t too much to ask. I know several people who don’t smoke but step away from their desk more often than smokers for a break.
    With companies these days there are several where an actual lunch break being away from the desk is a rarity. The majority of employee’s these days are sitting at their desk eating their lunch while working. Too many jobs are combining several positions with one person doing the job of 2 or 3 people that there just isn’t enough time for the official 30 minutes to an hour a day (away from the desk) lunch break.
    If a place of business wishes to be a smoke free establishment that is theirs to make, however discriminating against someone who smokes based solely on the fact that they smoke and some people may dislike the smell that lingers on the smokers clothes isn’t good for business. How many of you have worked with non-smokers who wear way too much perfume? Have severe bad breath? Or just bad hygiene all together? Would it be ok to terminate them or not hire them in the first place because they don’t brush their teeth as often as we would like or don’t use the proper amount of deodorant?


  7. solalba
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 13:00:10

    Dear Anita, Thank you for your information always.


  8. John Obe
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 12:03:32

    Well I loke the idea of employers know a little bout their employees health. But none the less social smokers can on average everyone shiuld be given a chance except on cases of medical history due to smoking.


  9. Miranda
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 10:38:51

    I don’t smoke and hate the smell it leaves on a person. I believe it’s their right to smoke, but I hate to have to smell it on their person when they come in from outside having smoked their cigarette. It permeates throughout the area of the workplace & I shouldn’t have to smell it, that’s my only gripe.


    • Allie
      Jul 29, 2013 @ 08:56:50

      and I don’t like the smell of your perfume, coffee, lunch you brought from home, deodorant, or the air freshener you used in your cube… the list could go on.


  10. Alex
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 09:19:41

    I agree and I smoke; being trying to stop hate that I started, but since I do I can tell you it does limit you chance of getting a good job unless you can hide the smell than that’s another matter.


  11. Yvette
    Jul 16, 2013 @ 08:25:06

    By law, aren’t companies required to give you a 15 minute break for every 4 hours you work? I know some companies group that into a required 30 minute lunch break, but if they don’t, then it’s part of your unpaid lunch hour.

    I’m not a smoker and the last two companies I worked at are non smoking campuses. So, employees have to walk pretty far to designated smoking areas. Isn’t it unlawful for employers to discriminate employees, especially when they are out there along side them.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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