SMOKERS take on average three more sick days from work every year than non-smokers, according to a recent review published in the journal Addiction.
Although quitting smoking reduced absenteeism, non-smokers generally took the least number of sick days of all the groups, the study found.
"Large financial and social costs due to smoking come in the form of productivity loss, as a result of death, absenteeism, sick leave or disability of the work-force,” wrote Stephen Weng and colleagues from the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at the University of Nottingham.
Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) estimated that productivity lost due to absenteeism cost the South African economy R12-billion in 2009.
"The sheer scale of the finances suggests that decreases in smoking prevalence in the work-force may result in significant gains in productivity through reduced absenteeism,” the Addiction authors wrote. "These costs may provide motivation for employers to support smoking cessation programmes, as potential near-term benefits may be gained by a reduction in absenteeism.”
For the study, researchers reviewed the results from 29 relevant journal articles published over the last 50 years.
The studies comparing current and non-smokers included data from 71 516 participants, and showed a 33% – a third – increased risk of absenteeism in current smokers, translating to 2.74 extra days off from work.
Compared to ex-smokers, current smokers were 19% more likely to take time off work, while ex-smokers were 14% more likely to be absent than non-smokers.
"The results of this systematic review imply that quitting smoking may reduce absenteeism and result in substantial cost-savings for employers,” the authors said.