Smokers take an average of almost eight days more sick leave every year than non-smokers, according to research.
The research was published in Tobacco Control today. The research team analyzed national representative registry data on sick leave among more than 14,000 workers in Sweden between 1988 and 1991.
Fourty-five percent of those included in the study had never smoked. Of the rest, 29 percent were currently smoking while 26 percent were former smokers.
Those in the group that did not smoke took the fewest days of sick leave, with the smokers taking the most. The average number of days overall taken as sick leave was 25. Smokers took almost 11 days more of sick leave then the non-smokers. This equals to 43 percent of all sick leave taken every year, suggests the research team.
There was almost no difference found in the number of additional sick days taken between male and female workers.
After the data was adjusted for scio-economic facters and smokers’ poor health, Dr. Lundborg said the difference in sick days between smokers and non-smokers was eight days.
“The results in this paper provide some of the strongest evidence to date of the relationship between smoking and sick leave,” he wrote.
The researchers attributed the difference to smokers’ poor underlying health combined with an overall riskier attitude to life. Bad health due to smoking, such as lung problems like cancer and asthma, is well established.
Due to this the associated medical costs make up an important part of the total healthcare burden in developed countries such as the U.S., Canada, and Germany.
The indirect cost of loss in working days is also a burden to the economy.
“Smokers are older, less educated, have more chronic diseases, are more likely to report bad health compared with non-smokers,” Petter Lundborg, of the University of Amsterdam, wrote in the Tobacco Control journal today.
Lundborg suggested that policies should be put in place to reduce or prevent smoking that could make a significant impact on reducing the loss of working days.
“However, the results also suggest that much of the higher number of days of sick leave among smokers may be explained by factors other than reduced smoking-related health,” he said.
The researchers accept that sick leave rates in Sweden are among the highest in Europe, but state that their findings still point to smoking as having a significant impact on worker productivity.