Printer icon Print Page

Up in Smoke: Smokers Cost Their Employers More Than $4,000 Each Per Year

Workplaces can cut the number of smokers sharply with smoking cessation programs

Ottawa, October 29, 2013 – Smokers take a toll on the bottom line of their employers, according to a Conference Board of Canada report released ahead of its 2nd Summit on Sustainable Health and Health Care.

employee smokingOn average, each smoker costs his or her employer an estimated $4,256 in 2012—more than $3,800 in lost productivity due to unsanctioned smoking breaks and more than $400 in lost productivity due to absenteeism. This amount has risen by more than 25 per cent since the Conference Board's 2005 estimate of the per-smoker cost to employers.


  • The overall economic costs of smoking borne by businesses and society were estimated at $11.4 billion in 2010.
  • Three-quarters of current smokers are working — and most want to break the habit.
  • The prevalence rate of daily smokers in a typical Canadian company is estimated to fall by 35 per cent by 2025 if a workplace cessation program is introduced.

"The workplace is an ideal setting to combat smoking. Canadian businesses should have a strong financial incentive to help smokers quit, especially in industries like construction, mining, and transportation that employ predominantly male blue-collar workers. The prevalence of smoking is much higher than average in these industries, and employers are less likely to offer effective cessation programs, benefits, policies or practices," said Fares Bounajm, Economist, Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care and co-author of Smoking Cessation and the Workplace: Benefits of Workplace Programs.

Unsanctioned smoking breaks make up about 90 per cent of the cost to employers, at a cost of $3,842 per full-time employee—a 26 per cent increase since the Conference Board estimated the costs of smoking in 2005, published in Smoking and the Bottom Line: Updating the Costs of Smoking in the Workplace.

Productivity losses due to absenteeism add other costs to employers. On average, each daily smoker and recent quitter took almost two-and-a-half more sick days in 2010 compared to employees who have never smoked— at a cost to their employers of $414 per year.

While the annual absenteeism cost represents only about 10 per cent of the overall $4,256 cost to employers, it has a more widespread impact because it applies to both current daily smokers and recent quitters.

Smoking is also responsible for large losses in economic activity, due to its association with increased risk of short- and long-term disability and premature mortality. In 2010 alone, this loss was estimated at $11.4 billion, or 0.68 per cent of GDP.

Yet, employers are not doing enough to change the smoking culture in their workplace. Less than half of respondents to a Conference Board survey take the important first step of offering a health risk assessment to all employees.

Employers can then help their employees quit by implementing a workplace cessation program. In this study, The Conference Board of Canada estimated that the prevalence rate of daily smokers in a typical Canadian company would fall by 35 per cent by 2025 if a workplace cessation program were introduced. In the absence of a workplace cessation program, the prevalence rate of daily smokers would be expected to fall by 13 per cent.

This publication is the last of three briefings in the Conference Board’s series Smoking Cessation and the Workplace. The previous publications were Profile of Tobacco Smokers in Canada, and Smoking Cessation Programs in Canadian Workplaces.

Funding for this research was provided by Pfizer Canada and the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC).

Launched in 2011, CASHC is a five-year Conference Board program of research and dialogue. It will delve deeply into facets of Canada’s health care challenge, including the financial, workplace, and institutional dimensions, in an effort to develop forward-looking qualitative and quantitative analysis and solutions to make the system more sustainable.

The 2nd Summit on Sustainable Health and Health Care will convene Canada’s health system leaders to discuss the latest research, learn from top Canadian and international experts, and explore solutions for Canada’s greatest health challenges and opportunities.

For more information contact

Corporate Communications

Monthly Newsletter

Get updates about Conference Board research and events by signing up for our monthly newsletter.

RSS Feed

RSS Feed  Subscribe to the Conference Board’s News Release RSS Feed

Access Our Research

Access to The Conference Board’s reports is free of charge to professional journalists upon request.

Access Our Experts

We have a team of experienced researchers and economists who are able to comment on current events or share their expertise for news features.

Recent News Releases

Les finances publiques du Québec se portent bien

October 20, 2017

Calgary and Edmonton Sweep Top Spots in Economic Growth in 2017

October 17, 2017

Slow and Stable Growth for Halifax Economy in 2017; Stronger Growth Awaits in 2018

October 17, 2017

Recent Speeches and Op-Eds

Three different dimensions of disruption

October 18, 2017

What immigration target should Ottawa set for 2018?

October 05, 2017

Three challenges facing Alberta amid the province’s new economic reality

September 28, 2017

Connect with Us