Put that in your pipe and smoke it?
In the previous edition, assistant editor Gavin Myers wrote about substance abuse; how to screen for it and what to do if you find an offender. This got me thinking … what about the substance that employees shamelessly abuse?
While smoking does not present the same work-related problems as alcohol or (other) drug abuse – as explained in the piece Myers wrote – it does present various dilemmas (not to mention the health risks it holds …).
“Smoking in the workplace remains a topic of heated debates between smokers and non-smokers,” explains Jan du Toit, senior consultant at the South African Labour Guide, in his piece: How many smoke breaks? Yours truly fully agrees, having been on both sides of the fence … (I kicked the habit in April this year, after nearly ten years of enslavement.)
Du Toit continues: “This is not because employers allow employees to smoke in non-designated areas, but rather as a result of the amount of time employees are allowed spend smoking during working time.”
He adds that legislation is silent on how many smoke breaks an employee may take while on the clock. “As such, it is recommended that employers introduce workplace policies regulating when and where employees are allowed to smoke.” Du Toit warns that, if this isn’t controlled, it may result in the employer paying for time that employees aren’t working.
“Employers are, therefore, advised to consider the impact that unregulated and paid smoke breaks may have on the operations of the company,” Du Toit points out – driving his point home with an example. “If smokers who, for instance, consume a packet of cigarettes per day are allowed to smoke whenever they want to, it may well result in one smoke break every hour of the working day.”
He notes that smoke breaks last around ten minutes, on average, excluding the time that it takes an employee to get to the smoking area and back. “During a typical nine-hour working day, such an employee will take only three unpaid smoke breaks during lunch and tea times. This means that there may well be six, ten-minute breaks during the rest of the day paid for by the employer.”
Adding fuel to the anti-smoking fire, Du Toit point out that, over a 12-month period, an employee, who works five days per week, will get paid to smoke for 28 working days. “Even if one halves this, it still equates to 14 working days, per smoker per year that the employer subsidises. Even if one halves this …” He asks if discrimination could be argued by non-smokers under such circumstances.
I see his point … but in smokers’ defence, many willingly offer up their lunch break to compensate for the time spent puffing. Using my old habit as an example, I smoked a packet a day, which resulted in an outing every hour … But the whole exercise (from when I left my desk to my return) took about five minutes. During my-nine hour working day I spent 45 minutes polluting my body – leaving a 15 minute leeway of the lunch break I didn’t take.
Some smokers even go “electric” to save on time as, owing to a lack of regulations, electronic cigarettes “can” be used at your desk. “Government recently announced, however, that it is considering legislation with regard to the use of e-cigarettes in public areas, especially since the long-term health implications of the inhalation of nicotine vapour (which the devices use instead of conventional tobacco) has not yet been established,” says Du Toit.
There are mixed feelings about these “electronic” devices. Some say that they are healthier than normal cigarettes and others are wary of the unknown effects. Personally, I’m in favour of the battery-operated versions – but to be used only to kick the habit, as they wean you off the thousands of chemicals found in cigarettes, while keeping the ritual intact. (It makes things a lot easier to fight the cravings and habit separately.)
At the end of the day, the massive amount of evidence out there is clear … nicotine addiction will probably kill you – regardless of whether you get your fix on or off the clock.