Experts call on HR teams and encourage scaffolders in the sector to look at stopping smoking ahead of World No Tobacco Day 2021 on 31 May.

Recently released data from Public Health England (PHE) reveals that nearly one in four employees in routine manual and service occupations in England smoke tobacco – over three times more than those in office-based roles.

The data comes after a report from a former government health advisor found reversing trends in smoking cessation in the UK after lockdown. Recent figures predict there will be 600,000 more smokers than originally envisaged next year.

Smoking prevalence in manual roles means these employees are 50% more likely to smoke when compared to the average in England. The data insights, collated by Vape Club ahead of World No Tobacco Day 2021, highlight the need for targeted support to encourage smoking cessation as we move out of lockdown.

While high rates of smoking present health concerns for those in manual labour roles, the number of smokers in routine manual and service occupations has dropped by approximately a third in the last decade.

The government has set a target of reducing the number of smokers to 5% of adults in England by 2030. To achieve this, encouraging smoking cessation for those in manual labour positions will be key.

What smoking cessation measures can be put in place?

In a 2020 study, Quitting Smoking for Mental Health, ex-smokers were asked what their companies could have done to help them quit smoking.

  • Smoking ban on-premises – 30% of ex-smokers say that a ban on smoking on workplace premises would have been the greatest support on their quitting journey. Whether government-enforced nationwide or specific to workplaces, the effects are likely to be the same.
  • Funding programmes for smoking cessation tools – 32% say that greater support in funding for smoking cessation tools (such as nicotine replacement therapy and vaping) would have further encouraged smoking cessation.
  • Encourage nicotine replacement therapy in the workplace – 39% of ex-smokers say that allowing vaping in the workplace, or at least in a designated space, would have helped them to quit smoking. This was echoed by over a third of current smokers (34%), who believe they would be better equipped to quit if this was their workplace’s policy.

Dan Marchant, director at Vape Club and founding member of the UK Vaping Industry Association, says: “It’s clear that employers can be really effective agents of change when it comes to encouraging smoking cessation. With the right tools, an employer that’s proactive in promoting smoking cessation can make a huge difference to someone’s overall wellbeing, both mentally and physically – as well as reducing the ongoing strain that both smoking and smoking cessation services place on the NHS. 

“We’ve certainly seen evidence that encouraging employees to quit smoking not only cuts down on the number of sick days caused by the physical impact that smoking has, but it also improves the individual’s mental wellbeing. It’s a no-brainer that companies should encourage more smoking cessation measures – not only will it keep employees at their desks, but it will keep them at their desks and in good overall health!

“Many employers are still playing catch-up with the NHS and Public Health England in acknowledging vaping to be one of the most effective smoking cessation tools, and a device that can improve employee wellbeing. We would hope that businesses will see this and encourage vaping and other smoking cessation measures accordingly.”

Bethany Smith, HR advisor at boiler suppliers and installers Heatable, says: “Supporting employees in adopting a healthy lifestyle shows that you care about their health and wellbeing, which itself improves morale and overall productivity. Beyond that, a healthier lifestyle has a range of inherent benefits, for example, there is plenty of evidence to support regular exercise improving mood and mental health.

HR teams could help encourage smoking cessation by adopting a smoke-free policy in the workplace, this means smoking on-site, the parking area and doorways is prohibited. This simple step is very impactful and by making smoking that little bit more inconvenient, it can be a constant reminder to break the habit.

A healthy workforce is less likely to be ill and take sick days, so in the long term it can save a company a considerable amount of time and money in lost workdays. The less obvious but equally rewarding benefit is that a healthy workforce is less likely to feel fatigued at work and so are more creative and productive in general.”

Lou Campbell, co-founder and programmes director at Mindfulness in the Workplace, added: “In the UK, the burden of wellbeing has fallen onto the shoulders of employers in recent years. This is something that is rarely acknowledged by businesses or the government. Moderate to severe ill health (including mental health), low energy, and/or dysfunctional behaviours are all likely to reduce productivity, motivation and engagement in employees. 

“Providing targeted and intelligent wellbeing services to employees is absolutely a remedy to this problem and medium to large businesses are certainly offering at least some wellbeing services to their employees. A two-pronged approach works best. Confidential one-to-one sessions will benefit those who are in crisis or experiencing moderate to severe health issues. Awareness sessions can be delivered to the wider group of employees, focusing on how to maintain positive mental health, work-life balance, healthy habits and whole-person health.”