Know Your Rights: Smoking in the Workplace

Woman smoking at work

Smoking in the workplace is quite a controversial topic and one that can be argued extensively. One side of the debate, smokers should have the right to smoke while at work but on the other, non-smokers should not have their health put at risk because of it. As smoking is, of course, a health hazard, legislations have been put in place to protect those that don’t indulge in the habit (and those that do, too).

To learn more about smokers’ rights and tips on how you can handle your cravings in the workplace, read on!

What Are the Laws on Smoking in the Workplace?

In the UK, smoking isn’t allowed in any enclosed workplace or public building. If employees are caught smoking in restricted areas, they can be fined up to £200 or up to £50 in Scotland. E-cigarettes are exempt from the law, and employers have the right to decide whether they can or cannot be used on their premises.

In the US, meanwhile, federal law does not regulate smoking in the office; therefore, most states have laws that control workplace smoking. Some states prohibit smoking in indoor areas at work and others allow employers to designate a smoking area, while some ban smoking altogether in the working environment. In a number of states, employers are permitted to fire smokers, even if their tobacco use is solely outside the workplace. A $250 on-the-spot fine applies if a worker is caught smoking in public areas.

In both the UK and the US, employers are required by law to display ‘no smoking’ signs in workplaces and in work vehicles, ensuring that workers and visitors are both aware of the rules. This applies to even small offices with over one other member of staff.


Do Employers Have to Give Employees a Place to Smoke?

Generally, smoking on work premises is usually not allowed, unless it’s in a smoking-permitted zone that’s usually located outside the building. Policies can differ from one company to another, and it’s vital to read through your employee handbook to find out the specific rules. The permitted smoking area and break allowance will be outlined in this document; usually, you’ll be entitled to take time out of your lunch break to smoke a few cigarettes throughout the day.

UNISON, one of the UK’s largest trade unions, believes that ‘a smoke-free policy should aim to protect all staff from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, comply with the law and support workers that wish to give up, but also make provision for those unable or unwilling to give up’.


What Workers Are Not Covered by the Ban?

Depending on your line of work, you may be exposed to the harmful fumes of a cigarette during your working time. This can apply to social workers visiting clients’ homes; although you can ask them not to smoke while you are there and to ensure that the room has been well-ventilated, there is no real guarantee that this will happen. The same applies to manual workers visiting clients’ homes.

There is also a number of places exempt by the ban; however, if the employer decides to, they can enforce the legislation on the specific institute.

Here is a full list of buildings that are exempt from the ban:

  • prisons
  • police station detention areas
  • nursing homes
  • hospices
  • religious order homes
  • the Central Mental Hospital
  • psychiatric hospitals
  • hotel, guesthouse and bed-and-breakfast bedrooms
  • third-level educational residential facilities.

What Can Your Employers Do to Help You Quit Smoking?

Smoking has been proven to increase the risk of getting ill, resulting in smokers taking more time off than non-smokers to recover. This then causes animosity between employees as non-smokers feel that this illness is self-inflicted and that they are left picking up the slack for a ‘bad habit’.

In order to help you curb the urge to smoke, employers can support you by setting up a quit-smoking programme or by embracing Stoptober (a 28-day stop smoking campaign in October) in the working environment. You’ll stop smoking with your usual group of smokers and will feel more encouraged to do so if you are all in the same boat.

In addition, they can provide counselling sessions where you can talk about your frustrations and discover ways to manage your stress if you’re suffering from withdrawal symptoms.


How Can You Curb the Nicotine Fix in the Workplace?

Kicking the nicotine addiction can be one of the toughest challenges you’ll ever face, especially in the workplace. You’ll not only need to change your behaviour, but you will also need to learn to develop new methods to handle stress, boost your outlook and unwind. With the right game plan, you can join the thousands of people who’ve left the ‘white cancer sticks’ in their past.

Here are a few tips to help you cut down or stop smoking completely:

Invest in an E-Cigarette

If going ‘cold turkey’ isn’t your thing, you can use nicotine replacements to wean yourself off cigarettes. Vapes, nicotine patches and inhalers can all help you curb your cravings. An e-cigarette is the most popular method, and it allows you to inhale nicotine through vapour rather than smoke. The vapour doesn't contain tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. Although they aren’t completely risk-free, they are a lot healthier than tobacco.

Consider Using Acupuncture

There’s some evidence that auricular acupuncture (in other words, needles in the ears) curbs cigarette cravings quite successfully, according to Ather Ali, ND, a naturopathic physician who is currently completing a National Institutes of Health-sponsored postdoctoral research fellowship at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in the US. Some people try to do at-home therapies by taping small beads onto the acupuncture points whenever cravings arise.

Know Your Triggers and Be Prepared

You just had a stressful encounter with your boss and immediately reach for a cigarette to relieve your stress. You wake up and the first thing on your mind is a cup of hot coffee and a smoke. If this sounds familiar, you need to be prepared to find new outlets for your triggers: meditating and exercising can be great substitutes for stressful circumstances.

Learn to Manage Withdrawals

Most physical signs of nicotine withdrawals will subside after two to three weeks, and making it through this time can be extremely difficult. It’s important to find ways to manage these withdrawals without reaching out for a bar of chocolate (which can be just as addictive). Instead, opt for healthy snacks and other activities that can give you the same satisfaction as smoking a cigarette does.

If you really can’t get rid of your smoking habit, you don’t have to feel victimised into doing so by your employer. You have the right to smoke in designated areas and will need to make sure you manage your time appropriately to do so. If, on the other hand, you really want to quit smoking, with the help of your employer, you can move towards a healthier and happier lifestyle.

Are you a smoker? If so, have you faced any problems in the workplace because of it? Let us know in the comments section below…