Credit: © Vicente Alfonso-Getty Images Caption: A hand and a cigarette
A decade ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control estimated cigarette smoking was responsible for $193 billion in annual, health-related economic losses in America -- about $96 billion in direct medical costs and an additional $97 billion in lost productivity.

Now a new study has broken down the yearly costs associated with hiring a smoker compared with a nonsmoker. According to researchers at Ohio State University, U.S. businesses pay an additional $6,000 or so annually per smoker due to factors like absenteeism, lost productivity, smoking breaks and health care costs.

Smoking breaks are reportedly the biggest cost, accounting for nearly $3,100 per employee annually.

"When people are taking smoke breaks, that actually adds up to a decent amount of cost to the employer," Micah Berman, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of health services management and public policy, told The Columbus Dispatch.

And there are also on-the-job costs. "Even if (smokers) are at work, they're essentially going through nicotine withdrawal," Berman said. "It actually causes a measurable reduction in productivity."

The study's press statement says the research focuses solely on economics -- and doesn't look at any ethical and privacy issues related to workplace smoking policies.

But it also notes more businesses are adopting "tobacco-related policies that include requiring smokers to pay premium surcharges for their health-care benefits or simply refusing to hire people who identify themselves as smokers."

One such company, Scotts Miracle-Gro (SMG), doesn't hire smokers in Ohio -- and company spokesman Lance Latham says the number of its smoking employees has dropped from 30% to around 5% since the ban went in place.

"Overall, our health care cost increases and premium increases have trended below the national average," Latham said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch. "We think that’s a combination of our tobacco and wellness policies."

At the same time, the researchers acknowledge that providing smoking-cessation programs can amount to an additional cost for employers.

"Employers should be understanding about how difficult it is to quit smoking and how much support is needed," Berman said. "It’s definitely not just a cost issue, but employers should be informed about what the costs are when they are considering these policies."

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