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Smoking at work costs Taiwan $US1bn

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Researchers in Taiwan are advocating a total ban on smoking at work to avoid an estimated $US1bn loss in productivity—0.36% of its total gross domestic product in 2000. Reducing smoking in the working population should be a cost effective way to raise national productivity, they believe.

The total estimate of 1032m encompassed $184m/year for excess sick days among smokers: 1.06/year—cost $178m—for men and 1.21/year—$6m—for women. Estimated costs of $81m resulted from sickness absence in non-smokers owing to effects of environmental tobacco smoke and $34m from occupational injuries. A staggering $733m was the direct result of time lost in smoking breaks: on average 72 hours/year for men and 48 hours/year for women.

How close these are to true costs is open to question, the researchers concede, as the human capital method they used to calculate lost productivity, in which value equates to wage/salary, can overestimate costs.

The calculations rely on data from previous studies, but the contribution of potential confounders cannot be assessed. A possible candidate could be an effect of drug and alcohol use in greater sickness absence among smokers, the researchers say, and education, socioeconomic state, diet, and occupational factors may operate.

Nevertheless, smoking probably has a big impact on productivity, given that two million of Taiwan’s four million smokers are in the working population, and it is surprising that more financial costings have not been published. Smoking bans exist in public places in Taiwan, but companies operate their own smoking policies.

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