Bosses fume over plans to make them pick up the tab and give smokers paid time off to kick habit

Employers’ organisations have spoken out against guidance recommending that smokers should be given paid time off work to help them kick the habit in the run up to the 1 July ban on smoking in public places in England.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) claimed the proposal would help cut the estimated £5bn annual cost of lost productivity, absenteeism and fire damage caused by smoking. It recommended that staff be allowed to attend stop-smoking clinics in work hours without loss of pay.

Smoking costs the NHS an estimated £1.5bn each year.

Victoria Carson, campaigns manager at the Forum of Private Business, said: “Where do we draw the line? What provisions would be put in place if the clinics fail to help staff? Many smokers struggle to quit and businesses must not be left with a growing bill.”

The proposals could damage relations between smoking and non-smoking colleagues, she added.

“Why doesn’t the NHS, using the savings made in the cost of healthcare by the smoking ban, set up evening smoking clinics out of work hours?” Carson said.

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The idea that businesses should pick up the tab for an individual’s tobacco addiction just shows how far removed from the economic reality of the workplace Nice is.”

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said there were alternative solutions that would not encroach into working hours disproportionately and alienate staff.

He told Personnel Today: “Support does not have to be time consuming. It can simply point staff in the direction of online resources, phone helplines or getting an expert in for a one-off seminar.”

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