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Smokers more likely to take sick days from work

A major review of studies into smoking and absence from work has found that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to take time off. When they take sick leave, smokers are likely to be absent from work for longer than non-smokers.
By Grant Stewart

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

man coughing

Smoking is one of the biggest causes of illness and early death. It can lead to many types of cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and many other serious health problems. Smokers live on average 15 years less than people who don’t smoke.

Stopping smoking reduces your chances of getting many serious illnesses, and of dying early. Even if you stop smoking in your 50s or 60s, you can live longer and stay healthier than if you keep smoking.

Smoking can also affect your daily health and makes you less able to work and do everyday things. The new review looked at how likely smokers were to take time off work compared with non-smokers. It also looked at how long smokers and non-smokers were absent when they took time off. The review examined 29 studies that included a total of more than 71,000 people.

What does the new study say?

The researchers found that people who smoked were about one third more likely than people who had never smoked to take time off work because of illness. On average, smokers took an extra three days off work a year because of illness compared with people who had never smoked.

People who used to smoke but who had given up were also more likely than people who had never smoked to take time off work because of illness, but the difference was much smaller than for people who still smoked.

The researchers also found that the extra time taken off work by smokers cost the UK economy about £1.4 billion per year.

How reliable is the research?

This type of research has some limitations. For example, some of the studies in the review were quite old, and didn’t contain all the detailed information that newer research should contain. But this was a large review with thorough methods, which is likely to make the results broadly reliable.

What does this mean for me?

Being ill less often is just one of many good reasons for stopping smoking. But giving up can be hard. You can talk to your doctor about getting help to kick the habit. If you are an employer who employs people who smoke, you might want to look at smoking-cessation programmes in your work place - the research shows it could save you money.

Published on November 01, 2012

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