How to tackle Smoking in the workplace

Posted in : Supplementary Articles ROI on 10 June 2024
Damien McCarthy
HR Buddy
Issues covered: Smoke breaks; Productivity; Wellbeing; Vaping; Hybrid working

Are employers afraid to stamp it out and are non-smoking work-mates the real butt of the joke?

Research from the Health Research Board has previously found that on average, smokers take an extra 25 minutes breaktime per day in comparison to their non-smoking colleagues, this adds up to between five and six working days per year lost by the average smoker.

By allowing smoking breaks, employers may be causing resentment among the employees who don’t smoke and therefore don’t get this extra couple of minutes every day. It is most certainly questionable and can lead to good reason why some non-smokers may become less productive and disengaged.

No-Smoking policy

Policies tend to vary from organisation to organisation. Most workplaces would have a no-smoking policy as part of their company policies, outlined in their contracts of employment or company staff handbook. Any employer that does not have a workplace smoking policy should have; and it is particularly important that this deals with the rules around vaping also because vaping can be a real bone of contention.

Impacts on non-smoking work colleagues

Smoking tends to be a huge continuous gripe for employers and the smokers’ work colleagues. Work colleagues tend to view the smoking habits of work colleagues as an extra break that adds pressure to their workload and many employers view smokers as employees who are committing time theft.

However, many workplace smoking policies can be weak or not even exist so to a large extent, smoking breaks are something that remain unchallenged in many workplaces. Some companies do ban smoking throughout their entire campus but these would very much remain in the minority.

Who should be dealing with this?

A lot of HR departments would look to be proactive on this issue and implement strong policies but also include tackling smoking as part of a wellbeing policy within their company. Some organisations would include the costs of smoking cessation programmes/products as part of their wellbeing strategy. This can have enormous benefits for both workers and the company they work for, such as a decrease in sick days and lost time along with improving on the bottom line due to increased productivity, not to mention the obvious benefit of a healthier workforce in the long-term.

This kind of pro-active approach can also create a positive culture shift and do all the hard work for you in tackling smoking in a workplace that may have high smoking rates. However, many HR Departments may find it difficult to get the financial backing for this and a proactive approach is needed by employers to financially back something that is more of a long-term gain.

Furthermore, what is written in a policy and what is in action on the ground can often be very different and a contradiction to one another. It really is about shifting the culture on the ground. A lot of employers or managers don’t want to rock the boat and there may be a sense that if smoking breaks are tackled, there will be a negative reaction that I don’t want to deal with or I could do without. When this is the case, it often means that there are some underlying gripes or issues in the background and therefore smoking breaks are not challenged by management and so, lost time continues due to what seems to be acceptable amounts of work-time spent smoking. This of course will continue to upset the non-smoking fraternity, and so the vicious cycle continues.

Existing legislation already in place

Strong legislation already exists. By law, a worker is not entitled to smoking breaks and an employer does not have to provide an outdoor smoking area for staff. However, that law does not cover vaping and perhaps it should. Employers have an obligation by law to have a smoke-free policy in the workplace, display “No Smoking” signs and also provide external stubbing bins at entrances where appropriate.

For workplaces to tackle this successfully and create a complete Smoke-Free workplace, they need to come at it from both angles.

First of all, if there is a designated smoking area, the people will go to it. So, if you are serious about tackling high smoking rates in the workplace, is it ever going to work when you are providing an area or shelter that you do not have to provide? That’s the tough love side of it that some workplaces may find toe-curling to even consider but smoking areas in work places are often the hub of activity; the opportunity to take an extra break, catch up on some gossip or hear the latest workplace rumour; why would you give that up?

The softer side of changing the culture to back up a hard move like removing the smoking areas/shelters is to genuinely invest in your workers health and that might mean some financial investment from a wellbeing perspective in smoking cessation treatments for your workers.

However, there is a clear return on investment in this strategy and something worth seriously considering in my opinion.

If you do one without the other, it may be difficult to actually achieve a smoke-free-workplace and perhaps both the hard and soft approach is needed if you want to implement a complete ban on smoking.

How can you ensure equal treatment of hybrid/remote workers?

This is tricky of course but it comes back to the same rules. An employer should monitor a remote worker and an on-site worker in the same way and it really is not acceptable to only have a smoking ban or smoke-free workplace for on-site workers and a different set of rules for remote or hybrid workers. There is no doubt that it is more difficult in the remote or hybrid situation but that can be said for other things also.

If there is a culture shift in the workplace with regards to smoking and particularly when it is backed and supported by the employer from a health & wellbeing point of view, this can positively feed off to everyone including remote and hybrid workers.

This article is correct at 10/06/2024

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Damien McCarthy
HR Buddy

The main content of this article was provided by Damien McCarthy. Contact telephone number is 064 669 8034 or email

View all articles by Damien McCarthy