Smokers could be hurting more than their chances for a long and healthy life. They could be decreasing their earning power.
New research suggests that smokers have more difficulty finding a job than non-smokers; when they finally are employed, they earn less than non-smokers do, says the study’s lead author Judith Prochaska, an associate professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Although prior research has found a relationship between smoking and unemployment, it wasn’t clear whether lighting up led to unemployment or was the result of it.
In order to determine whether tobacco use actually prevented people from finding employment, researchers surveyed 131 unemployed smokers and 120 unemployed non-smokers and then followed up one year later.
The resulting study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that after one year, only 27 percent of the smokers had found jobs, while 56 percent of the non-smokers were employed. Additionally, the non-smokers who had landed jobs earned, on average, $5 an hour more than smokers.
Researchers then used statistical tools that took into account the differences between smokers and non-smokers, including age, education level, race and health status. After controlling for these variables, the re-employment rate of smokers was 24 percent, still a significant difference from that of non-smokers.
Though hiring managers might not know definitively if a job applicant is a smoker, they might be able to smell cigarette smoke, putting the applicant “at a serious disadvantage,” Prochaska says.
Prochaska suggests that employers might hesitate to hire smokers because they cost about $5,000 more a year to employ than non-smokers thanks to higher insurance premiums, more days of missed work, and distractions from work because of withdrawal symptoms, among other reasons.
Additionally, researchers also asked people in the smoking group to rate their discretionary spending priorities after meeting their basic needs. Tobacco ranked number one out of 13 priorities, including new clothes, cellular telephone and grooming care – all factors that could affect a job search and how a hiring manager might view a potential job candidate.
A sister study is currently underway to learn more from hiring managers about the “explicit and implicit bias towards smokers as well as screening practices,” Prochaska says.