SMOKERS could cost the Australian economy a staggering $388 billion over the course of the Australian population's working lives.

Research just released shows the indirect costs of smoking, including lost time due to smoke breaks, second-hand smoke exposure and costs to employers from absenteeism, could have a bigger financial impact on the economy than direct costs associated with health care.

The shocking results have prompted Cancer Council Queensland CEO Chris McMillan to call for workplaces to consider banning smoking altogether.

"Having a smoke-free workplace not only improves the health of those who smoke, but this will increase productivity, decrease absenteeism and protect employees from being exposed to second-hand smoke," she said.

Should smoking be banned at work?

This poll ended on 17 August 2018.

Current Results

Yes, I can't believe it's taken this long.

90%

Yes but with the ban phased in.

3%

No.

6%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

By crunching the numbers at years of life lost, quality of life lost and productivity lost, researchers from Monash University calculated the total financial loss based on gross domestic product generated per worker in 2016.

The research, published in medical journal The BMJ, homed in on the indirect economic impact smoking has on work productivity.

"We're getting quite good at quantifying the costs in terms of hospitalisations, but there's evidence to suggest the indirect costs of smoking are very high, and in fact may be higher than the direct costs," lead researcher Dr Alice Owen said.

The study, which used a new method of quantifying productivity, led researchers to conclude that the case for expanding Australia's already strict tobacco laws was "compelling".

The modelling showed in addition to the loss of GDP, three million years of life would be lost from the current population of smokers.

If a 50 per cent reduction in smoking rates was achieved, a $194 billion saving in GDP could be made but would need to be offset by the cost of prevention programs.

"The likely economic benefits arising from productivity gains mean that greater investment in reducing the uptake of smoking is warranted," the paper states.

An office worker smokes in Brisbane’s CBD. Picture: AAP/Claudia Baxter
An office worker smokes in Brisbane’s CBD. Picture: AAP/Claudia Baxter

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland spokesman Dan Petrie said the obvious benefit of healthier workforces for employers was having more productive employees.

"Employers of Australia are paying smoke breaks, and changing that culture around 'smoko' and getting rid of smoking does improve productivity," he said.

Ms McMillan said although Queensland had the strongest smoking laws in the country, the results of the study reinforced the need to keep advocating for strengthened tobacco control laws.

But Mr Petrie, a former smoker himself, stopped short of supporting further tobacco controls and said it was important governments did not demonise smokers.

"We can't create conscription-style non-smoking camps, but encouraging those of our friends who still enjoy a cigarette to perhaps cut down is the way to go," he said.

The research did not take into account the economic activity associated with production and

sale of tobacco products, nor government revenue generated from tobacco taxes.



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