Smokers 'more sickly and less productive'
Smokers take more time off than their colleagues and do less work when they are there, according to researchers.
A study by American scientists of 300 staff in an airline ticket office found that smokers had more than two extra days off sick each year compared to their non-smoking colleagues.
Smokers were found to be absent from work for 6.16 days a year, compared to 4.53 for ex-smokers and 3.86 for non-smokers.
They were also found to be considerably less productive than their non-smoking counterparts, completing tasks such as booking flights more slowly.
But within a year of quitting smoking the productivity levels started to pick up again - with ex-smokers being five per cent more productive than those who still smoked.
Smokers were thought to be less productive than their colleagues because as well as suffering more ill-health, they also tended to take regular smoking breaks.
The report said: "Workplace productivity is increased and absenteeism is decreased among former smokers as compared to current smokers."
The research in the specialist journal Tobacco Control, a publication of the British Medical Journal, also revealed that current smokers felt their colleagues and supervisors were more likely to rate them as less productive.
A 1994 report estimated that the annual direct medical care cost attributable to smoking in the US the previous year was a staggering $50bn.
Clive Bates, director of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), said it should come as no surprise to employers that smoking has an effect on productivity.
And he called on the government to tackle passive smoking at work.
"It's time employers recognised the fact that health and industrial competitiveness are fundamentally linked.
"Ignoring the health and welfare of staff is not only poor employment practice, it's also bad for business."
But John Carlisle, of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, dismissed the claims and said that allowing time off for smoking actually increased productivity.
"A recent survey from a respected office recruitment agency suggested that 80% of those polled believed that time in the smoking room increased productivity. And many believe it brings together employees who would not normally communicate.
"Those who work longer hours smoke more to relieve stress, and it is incumbent on employers to provide facilities for smokers that will in turn lead to a happier working environment."
Smokers pressure group Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest) dismissed the research as an act of desperation. Spokesman Ben Williams said: "This is another attempt to demonise smokers and shows how desperate the anti-smokers have become."