Smokers Cost Employers Nearly $6,000 More Annually: Study

06/04/2013 12:35 pm ET

Smokers may feel the ultimate toll of their addiction, but its their bosses who are footing the bill in the meantime, according to a new study.

Employees who smoke cost the typical U.S. company an average of $5,816 more a year than non-smokers, according to research released Monday from Ohio State University. The researchers note that the annual cost of employing a smoker can reach up to $10,125, but also fall as low as $2,885.

Although nearly half of large companies have instituted wellness programs for employees, a majority of them are centered around factors like weight, cholesterol and blood pressure, rather than smoking. Micah Berman, the report's lead author and an expert on health policy and management, told The Huffington Post that the lack of focus on nicotine consumption is a mistake, but one that can be explained by the "sensitive and challenging nature" of the addiction.

"I think it can be easier to focus on other issues," he said. "You can encourage people to work out more without necessarily singling them out."

Additional health care costs are not the only financial burden that employers have to worry about with smokers, according to the study. Smoke breaks may account for a per-smoker cost of $3,077 due to the loss in productivity. "Presenteeism,” or reduced productivity related to nicotine addiction, can cost $462.

Berman's study notes that the research focuses only on the economic cost of employees that smoke, rather than the ethical and privacy considerations that surround the issue. While federal law does not protect smokers against hiring discrimination, a majority of states and the District of Columbia have passed smoker-protection laws, USA Today reports.

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