Banning the smoking break

There is a push on in some industries to ban smoking breaks. Some might say it's a good idea - good for productivity and good for people's health. But others might say it's heavy handed. After all, if people are smoking outside and away from others, who cares?

It’s bad enough that smokers are being forced to huddle in corners outside the building. I don’t smoke but I can see the argument that it actually impinges on their civil liberties because it puts them in a very uncomfortable space.

Earlier this year, the issue was raised when the Health Department banned people from taking cigarette breaks.  The departmental memo makes it quite clear to smokers that they are on the outer. "While no departmental employee will be permitted to smoke during the working day, smoking before or after these hours, or during the lunch period, is permitted. However, to ensure that as a department we project an appropriate professional image I also propose that no employee be permitted to smoke within 15 metres of any premises occupied by the department at any time.''

The decision was condemned by civil libertarians but Simon Chapman, the professor of public health at the University of Sydney says that’s just “soft nonsense” because when  you add it all up, smokers would be taking 216 hours a year when they head out on a break. “With 90 per cent of smokers regretting having ever started smoking, many smokers are in fact grateful for policies that limit their smoking … I love good coffee. Should I be able to leave the building and walk 50 metres to my nearest cafe any time I want at my employer's expense? What about exercise ''addicts'' or mild claustrophobics? Why limit compassion only to smokers?”

As reported here, there are some who believe it’s polarising smokers and non-smokers with the non-smokers resenting the number of breaks being taken. Take, for example, a call centre where people might duck out for a 15 minute smoke. Management will look the other way. But when non-smokers want to take five minutes out, they will have management breathing down their necks. It's not fair.

Some specialists say one way around the problem is to create statutory breaks for smokers. Not a bad idea but it won’t work. Why? Because some smoke more than others. Some might smoke two or three cigarettes a day, others might have two packs. How do you create a statutory break period with that sort of variation?

It’s a trend and discussion that seems to be gathering momentum with some organisations overseas forcing smokers to clock off when they duck out. In Europe, they’re even talking about banning smoking in all public places.

Lawyer Peter Vitalie has told Smart Company that more employers now see several 15 minute breaks a day as something that undermines productivity and that they could easily ban it. “There is nothing stopping an employer asking a candidate if they smoke and how often," he says.”You can put into a contract that staff are not to smoke during office hours. You can also fix the time of people's breaks and request that in their break they do not leave your premises. There is no law that says you can't discriminate against smokers.”

Maybe. But then, smokers would say they have rights too.

What do you think? Should smoking breaks be banned or cut back? Do smoking breaks undermine productivity? Do you resent the number of breaks smokers take? If you’re a smoker, how do you feel about it?