Smokers have harder time finding jobs, earn less

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Cigarette use could kick your job hunt in the butt.

Smokers are getting burned in the job market.

A new study by the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that unemployed smokers take longer to find work than non-smokers — and once smokers do land jobs, they earn less than their smoke-free peers.

Researchers studied 131 unemployed smokers and 120 unemployed non-smokers around San Francisco for the study released on Monday. Only half as many smokers (27%) had found employment after 12 months compared to the nonsmokers (56%), and among those hired, the average person lighting up earned $5 less per hour than a non-smoker.

That extra cash might not sound like much — it doesn’t even cover the cost of a pack of cigs in New York City — but after working 32 hours a week, that $5 deficit balloons to $8,300 annually, study author Dr. Judith Prochaska explained in the report.

Even after researchers factored in each person’s sex, criminal history, alcohol and drug use, and access to housing and transportation, non-smokers were still 24% more likely to land jobs than smokers.

That’s added insult to injury for the 40 million Americans who smoke and are already at an increased risk for cancer, heart disease and stroke stemming from the highly-addictive habit.

“The health harms of smoking have been established for decades,” said Prochaska, “and our study here provides insight into the financial harms of smoking both in terms of lower re-employment success and lower wages.”

The report wasn’t clear, however, on whether smoking is the cause or result of unemployment.

“You don’t know if smokers have a harder time finding work or if smokers are more likely to lose their jobs — or that when nonsmokers lose their jobs, they become stressed and start to smoke,” admitted Prochaska.

And the smokers and nonsmokers differed in a number of important ways besides their cigarette habits. Prochaska said the smokers were, on average, younger, less-educated and in poorer health than nonsmokers, which could also influence their success in finding work.

This aligns with a previous study of 52,000 construction workers that found 11% of the smokers among them were unemployed, compared to just 6.4% of non-smokers.

So what is it about firing up a cigarette that stubs out your chances of getting hired?

“Tobacco use among employees is associated with greater health care costs, unproductive time, and absenteeism,” the researchers wrote. “An employee who smokes costs private employers in the United States an estimated excess cost (above that for a nonsmoking employee) of $5,816 per year.”

The researchers didn’t survey every employer about why he or she turned one of the smokers away, but Prochaska told NBC News that, “Anecdotally, from talking with hiring managers in the field, jobseekers who smell of tobacco place themselves at a great disadvantage for securing employment.”

But quitting is easier said than done, as research shows that the nicotine in cigarettes is as addictive as heroin, cocaine or alcohol.

Prochaska’s team already has a follow-up study in progress to see if smoking job-seekers who quit smoking have an easier time getting hired once they kick the habit.

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