Research by public health charity Action on Smoking and Health in Wales has revealed that smoking is costing Welsh businesses an estimated £88.4m a year, putting added pressure on already cash-strapped companies.

The figure includes loss of productivity through smoking breaks; loss of workforce through excess sickness absence due to smoking-related illness; and damage to premises through smoking-related fires, all of which are having a significant impact on Welsh businesses.

Smoking breaks alone are estimated to cost Welsh businesses £39.5m a year.

The estimated cost of excess sickness absence is £48m a year while the estimated cost of commercial fires started accidentally by smokers’ materials in Wales is £930,000 a year.

The report “The Economic Cost of Smoking to Businesses in Wales”, is published on the first day of ASH Wales’s annual international conference in Cardiff, which will host experts from all over the world including the USA, India, the Isle of Man and the UK who will share cutting edge research on smoking prevalence and cessation initiatives.

At the conference ASH Wales will showcase its ‘Businesses for a Smoke-free Wales’ project which has involved working with 10 Welsh companies to help managers implement or develop existing smoke-free policies, as well as provide advice and support to employees.

The 12-month pilot project, which ASH Wales hopes to build on in the coming year due to demand, also offers direct fast track links to work-based quit smoking support services and opportunities to network with other businesses across Wales who are interested in developing smoke-free initiatives.

John Bennett, Business Development Manager at ASH Wales said:

“Helping staff to quit smoking not only benefits their health and their families’ health but can help businesses make significant savings.

“Businesses are beginning to realise the impact of smoking on their bottom line and want to do something about it. Businesses are coming to us from all over Wales asking for support to help their staff quit. As part of the project we spend time with the management to assess the impact that smoking is having as well as work with employees providing information, advice and signposting to other support they may need.”

Companies taking part include OP Chocolate and Everything Everywhere (T-Mobile) in Merthyr Tydfil; GE Aviation in Cardiff; South Hook LNG in Pembrokeshire, UPM in Shotton and Cardiff Metropolitan University.

OP chocolates in Merthyr Tydfil, which has nearly 300 staff, went smokefree on No Smoking Day on March 14th this year with the support of ASH Wales. Staff are now working together to form a “quit group” to support each other to give up.

Chief Executive of ASH Wales Elen de Lacy said:

“The figures in our report are not surprising but should be a wake-up call to everyone who doubts the impact that smoking still has in our communities, not only on our health but on our economy.

“Businesses need to realise the impact that smoking is having on their profit margins. Putting in place no –smoking policies and providing support to staff members to help them quit would not only improve the health of employees, but provide an economic benefit as well.

“Times are tough for businesses but if they were to think about providing on-site stop smoking support and develop a smoking cessation policy in collaboration with staff, it could make a significant difference.

“We also urgently need to ensure quit smoking services are accessible, equitable and offer a broad range of services across Wales if we are to have any chance of meeting the Welsh Government’s aim of reducing adult smoking prevalence to 16%. Long term we also need to be doing all we can to ensure fewer young people take up smoking through leadership and education.”