Smoking Breaks cost businesses £8.4bn

The smoker’s corner is a common sight across all industries – a bunch of employees usually involved in deep conversation under clouds of residual smoke hanging in the air. While smoking sessions may encourage employee bonding, a recent study shows that these ten-minute sessions cost employers large sums of money.

Research by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) says cigarette breaks cost British businesses £8.4 billion a year in lost productivity — of smokers who disappear for a cigarette for 10 minutes, four times a day.

Smoking breaks cost employers £1,815 a year for each full-time worker who smokes during working hours. That’s according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

The one-in-five of employees who smoke take an average of 3.9 smoking breaks per day, each lasting 9.8 minutes. The study shows that these employees spend around 4.3 minutes of each working hour on a smoking break.

“With the average smoker taking at least four smoking breaks a day, their addiction is seriously increasing their risk of conditions like heart disease and stroke. It’s also costing their employer significant sums in lost productivity. For many workers, smoking has become part of their daily routine at work, which makes it extremely difficult to break.” said Lisa Purcell, manager of the BHF’s ‘Health at Work’ programme.

“Over a working week, smoking breaks cost businesses £25.91 per smoker in lost time that would otherwise be used productively,” says the CEBR’s report, adding “While it may be argued that time spent on smoking breaks enhances productivity, providing an opportunity for refreshment and reflection, there is probably a decrease in productivity in the time before the smoking break which, on average, cancels out the effect, leaving the smoking break itself as lost productive time.”

Another survey conducted by OnePoll for the BHF comprised of 2,000 employed smokers, showed that cigarette breaks take up 8.1 per cent of a full-time member of staff’s time spent working, and 5.4 per cent of that of a part-time worker — costing their employers £447 a year.

Opinium Research reveals that 40 per cent of smokers who take a cigarette break do so simply because they “want to get away from their work”. Other reasons for taking a cigarette break include:

1.Pressure getting to them and making them irritable (30%)

2. To gossip with their colleagues (14%)

3. To flirt with their co-workers (4%)

4. Strategic opportunity to talk to their boss (4%)

According to CEBR’s analysis of the Office for National Statistics’ annual population survey of the smoking habits and working patterns of more than 300,000 British workers — Smokers also take 70% of an extra day’s sick leave every year more than non-smokers. CEBR calculates that this time away from work costs businesses around £50 per smoker per year, or a further £288 million overall, bringing the overall cost to business to almost £8.7 billion a year.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) did not comment on the £8.4 billion productivity loss. A spokesperson said that firms did not monitor or break down on smoking breaks. “Smoking is bad for your health but it is an individual choice. Many companies offer employees who want to quit support to do so. Employers take a common sense approach on smoking breaks, in the same way that they would for other brief breaks from work, like making a cup of tea.”



The views, opinions and positions expressed within the British Gas Business Blog are those of the author alone and do not represent those of British Gas. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this blog are not guaranteed. British Gas accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright in the content within the British Gas Business Blog belongs to the authors of such content and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. For more information about the mix of fuels used to generate our electricity simply visit You can find information about how to make a complaint at