SHRM Survey Uncovers Ways to Reduce Smoking at Work

Written policies are now more likely to address vaping

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Jan 14, 2016

Policies on workplace smoking can help workers to kick the habit, survey findings published on Jan. 14 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggest.

Nearly half of HR professionals report that their organizations do not allow smoking in the workplace, according to SHRM's Smoking in the Workplace report, based on a survey of randomly selected SHRM members conducted last December. Among the 47 percent of respondents whose organizations restrict smoking at work:

  • 58 percent limit smoking to designated indoor or outdoor common areas.
  • 31 percent ban all smoking in the workplace, both inside and outside the building.

“With health care costs continuing to climb, HR professionals are likely to continue to take an interest in the smoking habits of their workforce,” said SHRM researcher Karen Wessels, project lead for the survey. “Many organizations decide not to permit smoking in the workplace as part of their overall wellness strategy.”

Smoking Policies

Whether their organizations permit smoking or not, 85 percent of HR professionals responding to the survey indicated their organizations had a formal, written smoking policy. These policies included such information as the locations of designated smoking areas and the maximum number of daily smoking breaks employees could take (reported by 30 percent of respondents), or described smoking surcharges such as higher health care premiums for smokers (reported by 18 percent).

Of the HR professionals whose organizations had smoking surcharges, 45 percent indicated that smoking by employees in the workplace had decreased after that policy was adopted.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers may provide an incentive for employees to participate in wellness programs. For nonsmokers, the value of the incentive can be as high as 30 percent of the health plan premium. The ACA also permits an incentive of up to 50 percent of the plan premium for participating in tobacco-cessation programs.

Another popular initiative is to provide wellness information on the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle. More than half (54 percent) of respondents said their organizations make such information available; among these organizations, 45 percent reported that employee smoking had dropped since they began providing this information.

“Both wellness information on the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle and smoking surcharges appear to influence the rates of smoking by employees,” Wessels said.

Smoking policies are most frequently communicated through employee handbooks, on “no smoking” signs or posters in designated areas, and at new-employee orientation.

Initiatives to Curb Employee Smoking

Source: SHRM Survey Findings: Smoking in the Workplace

Vaping Policies

Forty-four percent of respondents indicated that vaping (the use of electronic cigarettes or other personal vaporizers that atomize nicotine liquid) was mentioned in their organizations’ smoking policies. Overall, one-third (33 percent) of those without a vaping policy said their organizations had plans to create one in the next 12 months.

Among organizations with such policies, 21 percent reported that vaping by employees in the workplace had decreased after the policies were introduced.

Disciplinary Actions

Fifty-three percent of HR professionals indicated that disciplinary actions were taken against employees who violated their organizations’ smoking policies. Among these organizations, for a first-time offense:

  • 66 percent gave a verbal warning.
  • 13 percent gave a written warning.
  • Just 1 percent suspended, fined or terminated an employee or required the employee to complete a smoking-cessation program.

“With slightly more than one-half of HR professionals indicating that disciplinary actions were taken against employees who violated their organizations’ smoking policies, employees have a strong incentive to quit their habit or reduce their smoking to off-duty hours only,” said Jennifer Schramm, manager of workforce trends and forecasting at SHRM.

Overcoming the Habit

Trends in smoking indicate that most smokers hope to quit and that fewer individuals are adopting the habit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects a continued decrease in the rates of smoking among both students and adults in the years ahead. “Because many employees who smoke are actively trying to quit, wellness programs that offer smoking-cessation programs will continue to be valued,” Schramm said.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow me on Twitter.

Related SHRM Resources:

Sample Smoke-Free Workplace Policy, SHRM Templates & Samples

Related SHRM Articles:


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