WORKPLACE / NOV. 29, 2013
version 7, draft 7

Equality in the Workplace: To Smoke or Not to Smoke!

Smoking in the Workplace

Regardless of which line of work you’re in, the likelihood is that a portion of your co-workers are smokers. There is also a strong likelihood that these smokers accumulate many more breaks than the humble fresh-breathed employee. Whilst on these breaks, smokers are perceived to be forming cliques and bonds with fellow smokers and ultimately polarizing the workforce. What can be done? Must non-smokers take up the tobacco filled stick in order to get ahead in business and not get left out in the cold?

Taking up smoking is an activity that people do consider if it means getting ahead in business. It starts at a young age in order to impress teenage peers and continues throughout the adult life. In an episode of Friends, Rachel famously took up smoking as she was growing concerned with the preferential treatment her colleague was receiving. This is a scene that can be lifted from real life offices with many workers sympathizing with her dilemma. 

Recent research has shown that '30 per cent of smokers surveyed spent more than hour a day on cigarette breaks and a significant number were smoking up to 20 cigarettes during work hours.' These studies are still relatively fresh due to the legislation of the smoking ban only coming into action in 2006, however, the prevalence and uncertainty over paid cigarette breaks in the workplace is clearly present. 

Is there a realistic solution to this problem?

Non-smokers could be offered additional breaks, but what would come of them? Employees are usually there to work, therefore in giving them a break the company is sacrificing productivity in order to promote equality  - even if this results in members of staff twiddling their thumbs on gratuitous breaks. It has also be suggested that smokers have time taken off their lunch hour, or required to do over-time to make up for minutes lost, however, there is an overwhelming sense of pettiness about these proposed protocols. The situation has become too normalized and any alterations to its system will be seen as radical.

A drastic, yet more egalitarian way of looking at this is to ban cigarette breaks all together. Other employees may enjoy a drink from time to time, or a punt on horse racing, but this doesn’t mean they can take a fifteen break to proceed with these hobbies. Why should smoking be treated any differently?

A possible solution that has real promise is the introduction of e-cigarettes. These affordable devices are currently permitted in enclosed spaces and initial claims insist they don't possess the same health threats that regular cigarettes do. However, Employment Law suggest that allowing e-cigarettes in the workplace will only lead to further problems and may not be an adequate replacement in the long term. It's also worth considering that not all smokers will easily convert from regular cigarettes to the electronic ones. Some companies have already taken the precaution of banning e-cigarettes, citing that 'potential fire and safety risks have been identified.' In truth, this seems a tenuous statement that looks to divert away from the more debatable issue with safety policies. A clear sign that there is no definitive approach in place to tackle the problems that coincide with smoking in the workplace.

It’s a difficult time for smokers. A period placed firmly between the advent of advertising and an endless supply of information. Smoking is a hangover from the ‘cool’ side of advertising and is taking a painful hit from physicians and scientists who are revealing more and more evidence that it is severely detrimental to one’s health.

Being a health-related activity, smoking is a taboo topic and one that is yet to receive any formal restraint. Society as a whole doesn’t know how to deal with the habit and this uncertainty is clearly prevalent in the workplace.

With studies starting to appear totaling the cost of smokers to their employers, it may transpire that action may be taken sooner rather than later, not by disgruntled non-smokers, but by the business managers. However, they may eventually be deterred from the likely rebellion that will occur from the smoking section of the workplace.

Until a small revolution takes place amongst the non-smokers, in which the minority stands up against these unequal practices, or the businesses begin to legislate against it, the only school of thought available at to the unhappy non-smokers, unfortunately, is if you can’t beat them, join them.

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