A new study on smoking and unemployment has found that not only are the unemployed more likely to be smokers, but that tobacco use itself could make job prospects go up in smoke.
It turns out that smoking may have a higher price than just the cost of cigarettes. According to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, smokers not only remain unemployed longer than nonsmokers, but they also earn substantially less when they are hired.
Judith Prochaska, associate professor of medicine, and lead author of this study, says that previous studies haven’t showed if smoking is the cause or the result of unemployment. “You don’t know if smokers have a harder time finding work or if smokers are more likely to lose their jobs — or that when nonsmokers lose their jobs, they become stressed and start to smoke,” said Prochaska.
To help determine whether or not this habit may actually prevent people from getting jobs, Prochaska and her team surveyed 131 unemployed smokers and 120 unemployed nonsmokers at the beginning of the study and then followed up six and 12 months later.
The results showed that after a year, only 27 percent of smokers had found jobs, while 56 percent of nonsmokers had landed work. Furthermore, among those who had been hired by 12 months, smokers earned, on average, $5 an hour less than nonsmokers.
But getting a job relies on many factors, and smoking isn’t the only thing that can affect job seekers’ success. “The smokers compared to the nonsmokers in our study tended to be men, younger, with less education, poorer overall health, more suburban, often with less stable housing and unreliable transportation,” explained Prochaska.
To account for these factors, Drs. Michael Baiocchi and Eric Daza on the research team ran sophisticated data analyses to equate the groups on key criteria, including time out of work, age, education, race/ethnicity, health status, access to transportation, criminal history, prior alcohol/drug treatment, sex and housing stability. Further, they trimmed the data to remove extreme cases such as smokers who were so different on these variables from nonsmokers that there was no overlap in the distributions.
After controlling for these variables, smokers still remained at a big disadvantage. After 12 months, the re-employment rate of smokers was 24 percent lower than that of nonsmokers.
Why don’t smokers get hired?
“Employers may not hire smokers due to concerns about absenteeism or higher healthcare costs,” said Prochaska.
Employers have become increasingly aware that employees who smoke come with additional costs. For example, for private employers in the U.S., an employee who smokes can cost an additional $5,816 per year.
For job seekers, the implications are clear: quitting smoking – or not starting the habit in the first place – can significantly improve your chances of finding a new job. But quitting smoking is difficult, and job seekers may not see the connection between smoking and job hunting.
“This research suggests that employment development departments could be an effective intervention point for helping people stop smoking,” said Prochaska.