Though it’s long been known that smokers are more likely to be unemployed, it was not known whether smoking itself was in some way damaging people’s chances of employment.
A team of scientists in California have found that unemployed nonsmokers are not only 30% more likely than smokers to be in work after a year, but also that they earn on average about R70 an hour more than those who light up.
“We have known about the harmful health effects of tobacco use, and we have know that for now about 50 years,” says Stanford University’s Judith Prochaska, who led the study.
“But here is evidence to show the financial harms of tobacco use, both with success in the workplace – in terms of being rehired – and then also potentially in the differential in pay that smokers versus nonsmokers receive.”
Published in the Jama Internal Medicine journal, the study involved 131 unemployed smokers and 120 unemployed nonsmokers.
The authors found smokers to be younger, less educated and more likely to be unstably housed, in poorer health and to possess a criminal record than nonsmokers.
More than half of all participants had been unemployed for more than six months, and nearly 60% had left their last job because their contract ended, or they were laid off.
When the researchers followed up with 108 of the nonsmokers and 109 of the smokers after 12 months, they found a pronounced difference between those who smoked and those who did not.
When duration of unemployment, age, education, race and ethnicity and perceived health status were taken into account – and extreme cases removed from analysis – the team found that nonsmokers were 30% more likely to be employed after 12 months than smokers.
In addition, among those who had found work in the year, smokers were found on average to earn just over R70 an hour less.
Linda Bauld, a health policy specialist at the University of Stirling, and not involved in the study, says: “Among people that are already disadvantaged, smoking might be stacking the odds not in their favour in terms of them gaining employment.”
Although the reasons behind the differences are unknown, the study sheds light on one possible factor. Smokers place tobacco, as a spending priority, considerably above expenses such as transport, cellphone and grooming care – getting a haircut, for example.
But there is much left to be unpicked.
As Bauld points out, a possible increase in sick days and other factors relating to smoking could also put smokers at a disadvantage by leaving them with a less favourable employment history.
The study did not delve into why employers might be less likely to hire a smoker. The research involved a small sample and was carried out in a very health-conscious location.
The authors believe the study highlights the need to raise awareness of smoking’s effects, and offers support to those attempting to quit. – © Guardian News and Media 2016