Do Nonsmokers Deserve Extra Vacation Days?

Americans in specific industries — wholesale & retail, finance & insurance and technology — spend more than an hour and 20 minutes a day on smoke breaks at work, according to a new survey. Zurijeta/Shutterstock

Nonsmokers typically harbor some resentment against smokers. It depends on your workplace dynamics, of course, but it usually revolves around the number of times smokers duck out of the office for a smoke.

Maybe it's once an hour or every couple of hours, but those minutes add up. And how. The average smoker wastes around six days a year on work smoke breaks, according to a no-longer-published survey by e-cigarette maker Halo. So, do nonsmokers deserve some extra vacation days for staying at their desks?

Yes, said many of the survey's 1,005 respondents. Nearly 42% of nonsmokers said they should get between three and five additional vacation days each year, and 28% of smokers agree with them. About 25% of nonsmokers said they deserved at least an extra day or two and almost 14% said they should get an additional six days or even more. Only one in five nonsmokers (and 38% of smokers) said they should be given no extra vacation days.

This may sound intriguing in a hypothetical way, but a U.K. recruitment company enacted a policy to give non-smokers four extra days of time off per year starting in 2020. The hope is to incentivize their staff to quit smoking, KCJ Training & Employment Solutions wrote in a Facebook post.

“A healthy workplace is a happy workplace,” Managing Director Don Bryden told CTV News.

A few years earlier, one company in Japan instituted a policy for nonsmokers. Marketing firm Piala Inc. decided to grant nonsmokers an extra six days of paid time off after that group complained that they were working more than the smokers on staff.

"I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion," CEO Takao Asuka told Kyodo News.

The cost of smoking

In addition to being the cause of such office grumbling, smokers also create a cost to a company.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that smoking-related illnesses alone cost more than $156 billion in lost productivity each year in the U.S., including $5.6 billion due to secondhand smoke exposure. According to CDC statistics from 2015, about 15% of American adults (36.5 million people) smoke.

A 2013 Gallup poll estimated it costs employers an extra $3,077 a year for each smoker. That's based on the assumption that it costs $341 for each full missed workday and around $13 a day for partial-absenteeism due to smoke breaks.

Overall, according to Gallup, "Workers who smoke cost the U.S. economy an estimated $278 billion annually in lost productivity due to absenteeism and extra healthcare costs. This figure is based on an analysis of the cost of extra missed workdays due to poor health, partial absenteeism due to smoke breaks, and additional healthcare costs compared with workers who do not smoke."

The buzz in the office

Smoke breaks were a topic on an "Ask a Manager" blog where managers and employees weighed in on the topic, "Is allowing smoke breaks unfair to non-smokers?"

"Unless you’re getting complaints from non-smokers, I say leave well enough alone," suggests a user named slaten. "However, as a non-smoker I would want to know that it’d be okay for me to take a 5 minute 'fresh air' break right along with that smoker..."

Martin shared his boss's solution: "I am fortunate to work for an employer which values its staff, in my industry that is rare! My current employer awards 1 smoke break day every 6 months to the non smokers or those who don’t smoke in work time."