How your job chances can go up in smoke

Lost productivity from smoking breaks. Higher absenteeism. Extra health care costs.

Do you think an employer would want to hire someone who would bring those debits to the organization?

An academic study released this summer says U.S. businesses pay an average of $5,816 more a year for each employee who smokes compared with the costs of employing a nonsmoker. The estimate breakdown:

• $3,077 in lost productivity because of smoking breaks during the workday.

• $2,056 in added medical and insurance costs because smokers tend to have more health problems.

• Part of the remainder in higher absenteeism — about two and a half more days a year than a nonsmoker.

Studies like this always cause kickback from smokers who fairly point out that many nonsmokers fritter away excess break time and miss work days too. And some smokers also say they will match their at-work productivity against anyone.

But that leaves the health data as an economic point that matters to employers. According to the study, the numbers are persuasive.

“We tried to be conservative in our estimates, and certainly the costs will vary by industry and by the type of employee,” said Micah Berman, an assistant professor at the Ohio State University College of Public Health and a co-author of the study.

Beyond being more likely to have health problems, smokers may cost more to insure. For employers that offer smoking cessation programs, there is added cost to that too. There may even be a small cost to providing a separate smoking area.

And there is a difficult-to-quantify cost of customer or co-worker irritation. Some people may refuse to patronize or work at a location that smells of secondhand smoke.

All told, quit-smoking programs may be money well spent for both employers and individuals.