Productivity goes down in smoke

Are smokers slackers? Maybe so, according to two recent studies. Not only do they call in sick more, but their job performance lags behind nonsmokers.

A study conducted by the U.S. Navy – which followed the career progression of women entering the navy – found that tobacco users performed more poorly than nonsmokers. Compared with non-smokers, frequent smokers were more likely to:

• Drop out before serving their full-term enlistment.

• Receive a less-than-honourable discharge or demotion for medical reasons, bad behaviour (including desertion of post), or misconduct.

• Show a higher rate of personality disorders.

And non-smokers make more money than daily smokers, after taking into account level of education and time in service.

The study also found a frequency effect of smoking, with women who smoked a few times a week or only occasionally consistently falling between the daily smokers and never smokers. For example, 5 per cent of never-smokers dropped out or were dismissed during recruit training, compared with 6.5 per cent of the sometimes smokers, and 9.5 per cent of daily smokers. In terms of misconduct, 6.8 per cent of never-smokers were discharged, compared with 8.4 per cent of sometime smokers, and 15.6 per cent of daily smokers.

About 45 per cent of the women had never smoked, 27 per cent were daily smokers when they enlisted, and the rest were ex-smokers or smoked occasionally.

However, it is still not clear if cigarette smoking is directly linked to lower performance, researchers say.

“Cigarette smoking might simply be a ‘marker’ for other underlying factors, such as non-conformity and high risk taking that contribute to poorer performance in the military,” Dr. Terry Conway of San Diego State University’s school of public health and his colleagues said.

The study was supported by the U.S. Department of Defense. There are currently around 59,000 women serving in the U.S. Navy.

More sick days
People who smoke take an additional eight days of sick leave a year, reported Petter Lundborg, Ph.D, an economist at the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

In this study of Swedish workers, Lundborg and his team analyzed national data on sick leave taken by 14,000 workers for four years, between 1988 and 1991. Smokers took an extra 11 days off compared to nonsmokers, but this figure was adjusted to eight days to account for the risk involved with their jobs and underlying health issues.
Smokers took an average of 34 sick days a year, compared with 20 days taken by those that never smoked, and 25 days taken by former smokers. This equals to 43 percent of all sick leave taken every year, researchers said.

“The results suggest that policies that reduce and/or prevent smoking may also reduce the number of days of sick leave,’’ Lundborg wrote in Tobacco Control.

But further research is needed to establish the link between sick leave and smoking, as factors other than tobacco use may play a part in the absences, he added.

Both studies were reported in the April issue of Tobacco Control.

Tobacco leading cause of death
Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world, with an estimated 4.9 million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization. If current smoking patterns continue, the toll will nearly double by 2020. 70 per cent of tobacco-related deaths are expected to occur in developing countries.