Smoking is a costly habit for both health and finances. Now, a new study reveals that unemployed smokers are less likely to get a new job, compared with unemployed nonsmokers. When they do get a new job, however, they earn much less.

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The new study suggests smoking job seekers are less likely to find re-employment, compared with nonsmokers.

The research – led by Judith J. Prochaska, PhD, of Stanford University in California – is published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease that is due to smoking.

Known to cause cancer, heart disease, stroke and other diseases, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death.

If these are not enough reasons to quit smoking, the new study adds further incentive.

According to the study authors, employees who use tobacco are linked to greater health care costs, unproductive time and absenteeism. In fact, private employers in the US pay an estimated $5,816 in extra costs each year for each smoking employee, compared with nonsmoking employees, they say.

A 1987 Federal Appeals Court ruling decreed that smokers are not a protected class entitled to special legal protections, and hiring policies that require employees to not use nicotine are legal in over 20 states.

Tobacco use has been linked with unemployment in studies from both the US and Europe, but the mechanism behind this association has not been investigated prospectively.

According to the authors, previous cross-sectional surveys have not enabled researchers to determine whether smoking is a cause or effect of unemployment.

Fast facts about smoking
  • Tobacco causes nearly 6 million deaths per year around the world
  • In the US each year, cigarette exposure is responsible for over 480,000 deaths
  • Smokers die on average 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

Learn more about quitting smoking

As such, they prospectively tracked re-employment success by smoking status in their study, which, to their knowledge, is the first investigation to do so.

In total, there were 251 unemployed participants from the San Francisco and Marin counties in California, 131 of whom were daily smokers. They were an average of 48 years old, and 65.7% were men.

Regarding race, 38.2% were white, 35.9% were black, 9.6% were Hispanic, 7.2% were Asian and 9.2% were multiracial or another race. Additionally, 31.1% had a college degree and 39.4% were “unstably housed.”

Per day at baseline, the smokers consumed an average of 13.5 cigarettes.

Results show that 55.6% of the nonsmokers were re-employed within 12 months, compared with only 26.6% of the smokers. The researchers say these results suggest nonsmokers are 30% more likely to re-employed than smokers.

Furthermore, the researchers found that nonsmokers earned more money upon re-employment than the smokers did. In detail, the hourly wage for smokers was $15.10 per hour on average, compared with $20.27 per hour for nonsmokers.

Given that this is about $5 less per hour, the researchers say that, at an average of 32 hours per week, this translates into a difference of $8,300 per year.

Although their study produced significant results, the researchers do note some limitations. Firstly, they note that the exclusion criteria and sample size did not allow for tests of links within specific career clusters.

Additionally, the participants were all English-literate, were not planning to relocate and lived in the San Francisco Bay area, which is a location with low smoking prevalence and high stigma about smoking.

As a result, the researchers say their findings may not be generalizeable to populations in other regions.

Commenting on their results, the researchers write:

As a ‘one-stop shop’ for employment resources, employment service agencies could raise awareness of tobacco-related costs, wage losses, health harms and associations with lower re-employment success and serve as a connector to low-cost cessation services such as state quit-lines.”

They say they are now testing tobacco cessation interventions on time to re-employment in a randomized, controlled trial involving smokers who are looking for jobs.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggested cigarette smoking alters the mouth microbiota.