It’s been several decades now since the health risks of smoking have been well known and widely acknowledged by most Americans.
The old debate regarding the merits of the medical arguments against smoking (i.e. cigarettes being “not addictive”) no longer exist in most quarters; the medical evidence against smoking is now so widely accepted that even the tobacco industry itself no longer attempts to refute most anti-smoking arguments.
So it might come as somewhat of a surprise for many to learn that a recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that just over a half of HR professionals questioned said that their organization still permitted smoking in the workplace.
In addition, according to the SHRM survey, 85 percent of HR respondents said their organizations also had a formal, written smoking policy in place; only seven percent said their company or organization did not have any smoking policy at all.
In an age when smoking is, correctly, viewed as a serious health risk (to both the smoker and—potentially—those around them) it’s not that surprising to learn that the survey indicated about 54 percent of those responding said their company also provided “wellness information” on the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle; in fact, 18 percent of those surveyed reported that their organization imposed smoking ‘surcharges’, such as a higher health care premium, for those employees who smoked.
Policies (and related penalties) imposed by employers also appear to have a direct impact on the choices made by employees.
Of the HR respondents who said their organization had smoking surcharges, 45 percent noted a decrease in the number of employees who smoked since the surcharges were implemented. In addition, 41 percent reported the same outcome when their organization began providing “wellness information” on the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle.
One of the issues that’s only recently arisen pertaining to smoking in the workplace is the question of “vaping”—the use of electronic cigarettes or other personal vaporizers that atomize nicotine liquid.
The survey found that more than two-fifths of HR professionals said their company now had policies that addressed the issue of vaping, however only 2 percent of respondents said their organization had a separate vaping policy. Still, the growing popularity of vaping is being acknowledged by many organizations—as one-third of survey respondents said their companies had plans to initiate a vaping policy within the next 12 months.
Interestingly, while many companies have decided to “punish” employees for smoking, there still seems to be a reluctance to actually institute any real ‘punishment’.
Only 53 percent of survey respondents indicated that disciplinary actions were taken against employees who violated their organizations’ smoking policies. Most common disciplinary responses included a verbal warning for first-time violation of smoking policy (66 percent), while an additional 13 percent received a written warning; only one percent of companies had suspended, fined or terminated an employee who violated smoking policy.
The SHRM surveyed respondents from a wide cross-section of the American workplace, with 51 percent of survey respondents coming from privately owned, for-profit companies, 20 percent from non-profit organizations, 17 percent from publicly-owned for-profits, and nine percent from the government sector.
While tobacco use in the workplace has seen a steady decline over the last several decades, the growing popularity of “vaping” appears to–once again—be raising the issue of workplace smoking.
The good news for companies—and individuals—hoping to see a decline in workplace smoking is that there’s no reason to believe that the general trend lines of decreased smoking in both the general public and the workplace will abate any time soon.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) projects a continued decrease in the rates of smoking among both students and adults in the coming years.
That reality, along with a growing desire among many current American smokers to change their ways and give up the smoking habit, means that workplace ‘wellness’ programs should also continue to grow in popularity, and that the air may continue to steadily ‘clear’ in the American workplace in the coming years.