In an office, it’s likely a chunk of employees smoke daily; whether it’s 5 a day or 20 a day, smoking is a habit that 15.5% of UK adults have (based on statistics from 2016). The debate of smoking breaks has been on-going for many years, with arguments of discrimination and unfair treatment raised in terms of breaks and disruption of work.

The Facts and Figures

Research from Vapourlites.com revealed that 66 per cent of non-smoking office workers believe that it is unfair that their smoking colleagues are allowed to take ‘additional’ breaks (meaning outside of dedicated lunch breaks which all employees are entitled to) throughout the day to feed their addiction.

Vapourlites.com illustrate the issue of unfairness in their report: “During a seven-hour working day (excluding lunch hour), an office worker might take five minutes to smoke every hour, resulting in 35-minutes of paid break time. If a non-smoking office worker took the same 35-minute break, per day, then it is justifiable to see why they might view it as unfair.”

The same research also revealed that 58% of non-smokers believe that smokers should be required to clock in and out when taking smoke breaks, and 44 % label smoke breaks as ‘disruptive’  to work-flow, especially during team projects. The time taken away from work can cause employees to miss important information and build weaker rapports with non-smoking colleagues, which may potentially damage quality of work and productivity. In fact, a study from the British Heart Foundation revealed that each full-time smoking employee’s smoke breaks cost employers a massive £1,815.

Is Banning Additional Smoke Breaks the Answer?

Some offices do not allow smokers to nip out whenever they want to smoke, restricting smoking to set breaks that all employees are entitled too – most commonly, an hour lunch break and potentially one or two additional shorter ones, but it does depend on the length of the working day and the company’s individual break policy.

Break policies may also differ depending on the smoking-status of people in charge; for example if the senior employees of a company are mostly non-smokers, it could be argued that they would be more likely to ban additional smoke breaks than a senior management team consisting of heavy smokers.

Keeping smoking times within set, universal break durations is the fairer system to have in place, as breaks are equal for all and employees can choose to spend them how they wish, whether it’s smoking, eating or socialising. 

Cravings and Quality of Work

Despite the obvious equality the banning-approach, it could cause further issues depending on the level of addiction employees have. For example, an employee who smokes no more than ten cigarettes a day may manage fine being restricted to set-breaks, however an employee who is a much heavier smoker may struggle to concentrate in-between these set breaks if cravings set in.

As Quit Smoking Community notes, cravings can cause anxiety, anger and overall decrease of mental function, which could ultimately affect an employee’s productivity, motivation and overall quality of work.

In these instances, allowing extra breaks to rid cravings could be beneficial and provide craving employees with a better working mind-set compared to if they were asked to wait. However, taking additional smoking breaks interrupts work and takes time, so it could be argued that quantity of work would be lower; each option could therefore have the potential to negatively affect work performance.

If restricted smoking times is causing a large issue for some smoking employees, employers could provide assistance or advice in helping employees cut down or quit smoking in order to maintain high work performance.

With a steep rise in both cigarette prices and awareness of health damage, smoking statistics are decreasing. Since 2010, the amount of smoking adults in the UK reduced by 4.4%, and the numbers are likely to decline further in the coming years. With smoking becoming less popular, the issue of smoking breaks in the workplace may become less of an issue in the future, with fewer concerns of discrimination and unfairness.


Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our Content Writer.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry with a love of writing about anything and everything in tow.
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