(Reuters) — Smokers miss an average of two or three more days of work each year than non-smokers, with this absenteeism costing the United Kingdom alone 1.4 billion pounds last year, according to a U.K. study.
The report, which appeared in the journal Addiction, analyzed 29 separate studies conducted between 1960 and 2011 in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the United States and Japan, with more than 71,000 public and private sector workers.
Researchers asked the workers about their current and former smoking habits and used surveys or medical and employee records to track how often they were absent over an average of two years.
The researchers calculated that current smokers were still 19 per cent more likely to miss work than ex-smokers, so encouraging smokers to quit could help reverse some of the lost-work trends.
"Quitting smoking appears to reduce absenteeism and result in substantial cost-savings for employers," wrote Leonardi-Bee and her colleagues.
The 1.4 billion pounds lost in the U.K. due to smoking-related absenteeism is only one cost of smoking in the workplace, according to Leonardi-Bee and her colleagues. Others include productivity lost to smoking breaks and the cost of cigarette-related fire damage.
In the analysis, smoking was tied to workers' short-term absences as well as leaves of four weeks or more.
"Clearly the most important message for any individual's health is, 'Quit smoking,' but I think that message is pretty well out there," said Douglas Levy, a tobacco and public health researcher from the Harvard Medical School in Boston who wasn't a part of the study.
"I think (the study) does point to the fact that this is something that doesn't just affect the individual, it affects the economy as well."
Levy's own research has shown children living with smokers are more likely to be absent from school. Secondhand smoke has been tied to a range of health ailments, from asthma to heart attacks, so employees who light up may also have to miss work more often to stay at home with sick family members.
Levy said the most important finding was the reduction in absenteeism after workers quit smoking, supporting the idea of companies funding smoking-cessation classes and other workplace health programs.