Unemployed Smoker? Your Cigarettes Could be to Blame

Most people know the health reasons why you shouldn’t smoke (like lung cancer), but a new study in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, shows that there’s a strong financial hindrance as well. In the study, smokers remained unemployed longer than their non-smoking counterparts and when they did finally find a job, it was for less money than nonsmokers. Smokers also made five dollars per hour less than non-smokers (which resulted in about $8,300 annually) and were also 30 percent less likely to find another job once they lost their current one (compared to their nonsmoker counterparts).

The reason: According to the lead authors of the study, tobacco use among employees is associated with greater health care costs, unproductive time, and absenteeism. “If employers know this, then they are going to be less likely to hire a smoker than a nonsmoker, everything else being equal,” explains Jon Macy, PhD, Assistant Professor of Applied Health Science in the School of Public Health at IU Bloomington. After all, what employer wants to incur all those additional costs and downsides that may accompany their new employee? 

But how would an employer know that you’re smoker? “It is perfectly legal to ask people about smoking—and even test them—as a contingency for employment,” says Macy. Not to mention smokers basically wear a calling card: their smell. “It is hard to cover up the smell of smoke on clothing,” says Cathlene Hardy Hansen, PhD, Director of Health and Wellness Education at Indiana University Health Center.

Additionally, there’s a new emphasis on life balance in the work force. “Some employers are finding more flexibility in dress code, pets at work and flex hours. We are also seeing a new level of health awareness that will likely include a high expectation of potential employees,” says Hansen. Smoking is not indicative of living a healthy lifestyle, which may prevent smokers from getting jobs. “It’s no real surprise that research is confirming this,” says Hansen. 

In addition to employment issues, smoking has a host of health ramifications.

Health concerns

“​We know that smoking hinders circulation to extremities and thus the early wrinkling of skin, poor dental health and loss of energy,” says Hansen. “Plus, smoking depletes the body of vitamin C, weakening immunity. One cigarette can rob the body of the equivalent of one orange in vitamin C.” Other health ramifications of smoking include:

  • Higher blood pressure
  • When used during pregnancy can cause lower birth weight
  • Can contribute to asthma in children and cancer in family pets.

How to quit

“ ​​Quitting is about behavior change.  We need to focus more on what we are going to add to our daily routine in place of tobacco use rather than focus on giving up something we enjoy,” says Hansen. She recommends the 4 D's to address cravings:

  1. Delay: Wait 10 minutes when the feeling to light up first emerges—cravings only last 5-7 minutes.
  2. Drink: Sip water when you’re having a craving. This will occupy your hands and mouth and fill you up.
  3. Deep breathing: Fill those lungs slowly with oxygen and then slowly exhale.  “You are simulating an inhale—without the tobacco—and your brain is happy,” says Hansen.
  4. Distract: Busy yourself with something that puts your hands to task, such as crafts, knitting, painting or journaling.

Know your triggers. Everyone has a trigger system. Right after drinking coffee/alcohol, driving, socializing, work or study breaks, after a meal—all of these can trigger cigarette cravings. Knowing what your trigger is can make you more aware of changing that routine, says Hansen. For instance, instead of smoking during lunch, go for a walk instead.

Take part in a tobacco cessation program.  “Research shows that tobacco users that quit cold turkey are 40 percent more likely to relapse,” notes Hansen.  However, the support, coaching and nicotine replacement products used in cessation programs help people reduce or quit tobacco use in a non-judgmental and individualized environment. “We know that encouragement and support are a far better approach to coaching individuals through the quitting process,” says Hansen. “Like any addiction you often see relapse.  Stay positive and keep your eye on your goal.  Pat yourself on the back for taking that first step.”  

-- By Judy Koutsky