WHO urges businesses to create smoke-free workplaces

When a business goes smoke-free, it lowers operational costs for business owners, while work productivity increases due to less absenteeism and improved overall morale of the employees.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a smoke-free policy lowers health care, cleaning, maintenance, and fire insurance businesses costs. Those who have engaged in the “Revolution Smoke-Free,” a campaign that aims to establish smoke-free workplaces where everyone is free from tobacco smoke, showed a 10 percent drop in their cleaning expenses. The campaign calls on businesses to pledge their commitment to smoke-free workplaces through www.revolutionsmokefree.org.

The campaign pushes for smoke-free workplace, with totally no designated smoking areas. Having smoking areas means that workers and visitors are still exposed to second-hand smoke and its risks. The only way to eliminate the hazards of tobacco smoke is through implementing a 100 percent smoke-free policy.

Implementing a smoke-free policy is not costly. In fact, it will save businesses thousands of dollars in health and fire insurance and cleaning costs. Smoking in the workplace raises operational costs and reduces productivity by adversely affecting the health of workers. Research from the UK found that smokers spend 40 minutes each work day to smoke, that is about 20 days of total time lost per employee in a year due to smoking breaks.

Recognizing the positive impact of a smoke-free environment on employees and their business, the private sector in some countries is already taking the initiative to implement smoke-free workplace policies.

“Companies are constantly looking for ways to boost their bottom line. Going smoke-free is the easiest way to propel productivity in any business. This campaign highlights the importance of protecting employee health and the bottom line through a commitment to creating a smoke-free environment in the workplace,” said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Shin Young-soo.

Unfortunately, only 9 out of 27 Member States in the WHO Western Pacific Region have adopted comprehensive smoke-free laws covering all public places and workplaces, leaving hundreds of millions of people vulnerable to second-hand smoke. WHO has traditionally targeted governments to adopt and enforce smoke-free laws, but even with the best understanding and intentions, strong opposition hinders the passage of effective laws.

“There is no need to wait for national legislation to make workplaces smoke-free. Businesses can lead the charge in changing our workplaces, protecting workers and clients, and promoting smoke-free environments as the global standard to which every responsible and successful company must strive,” says Dr Shin.

No consumer product kills as many people, and as needlessly, as does tobacco. It killed 100 million people in the 20th century. Unless we act, the death toll can reach 1 billion people in the 21st century. Approximately, 80 percent of the world’s one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.

It accounts for 6 percent of all female and 12 percent of all male deaths in the world. More than 5 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use. Moreover, over 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second hand smoke. Workers in bars and restaurants have 50 percent higher risk of cancer due to smoking and second-hand smoke as opposed to the general population.

Being the second biggest contributor to the epidemic of non-communicable disease, next to high blood pressure, about 63 percent of all deaths are caused by NCDs, for which tobacco use is one of the greatest risk factors.

Tobacco is responsible for over 71 percent of all cases of lung cancer deaths globally, 42 percent of chronic respiratory disease deaths, and nearly 10 percent of all deaths from cardiovascular disease.

“A smoke-free workplace is not a privilege, it’s a global standard,” concluded Dr. Shin.