Smokers who are out of work are less likely than nonsmokers to find a job and once they do, they earn less, researchers reported Monday.
The study is one of the few to show that smoking is a cause, and not an effect, of not getting hired and it measures just how much smoking costs the average person: $8,300 a year.
"Among smokers re-employed at one year, on average, their hourly income was $5 less relative to reemployed nonsmokers: $15.10 versus $20.27, a 25.5 percent difference," Judith Prochaska of Stanford University and colleagues wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Internal Medicine.
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"Averaging 32 hours per week, this is a deficit exceeding $8,300 annually," they added.
Prochaska's team studied 251 San Francisco area job hunters between 2013 and 2015. About half were smokers and half were not. After a year, twice as many nonsmokers had jobs.
"At 12-month follow-up 60 of 108 nonsmokers (55.6 percent) were reemployed compared with 29 of 109 smokers (26.6 percent)," the team wrote.
One they factored in sex, criminal history, a person's access to stable housing and transportation, alcohol and drug use, the differences were still clear: non-smokers were 24 percent more likely to get a job.
That fits in with other studies, Prochaska's team said. A study of 52,000 construction workers found that 11 percent of smokers among them were unemployed, compared to 6.4 percent of nonsmokers. But in that study, it wasn't clear if people started smoking because they were unemployed.
It's understandable that employers might be reluctant to hire smokers.
"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."
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The study wasn' t so intense that the researchers tracked down potential employers who may not have hired the smokers. But they did ask enough questions to determine that smokers put their habit first -- often in front of personal hygiene, transportation and even getting a cellphone.
"Compared with nonsmokers, smokers were significantly younger and less educated; more likely to be men, African American or multiracial, never married, unstably housed, and an urban resident; had a criminal history, unreliable transportation, and prior treatment for alcohol or drug problems; and reported poorer health," the team added.
"We have a sister study in process to examine implicit and explicit bias toward smokers among hiring managers and practices around screening for smoking," Prochaska said by email.
"Anecdotally, from talking with hiring managers in the field, jobseekers who smell of tobacco place themselves at a great disadvantage for securing employment," she added.
Smokers don't get legal protections and many employers require people to pledge or even prove they do not smoke.
"In many states, employers are able to fire or discipline employees who smell of tobacco smoke at work," Prochaska' team added.
Most of the smokers, more than 90 percent of them, had tried at least once to quit, Prochaska's team reported. Experts say nicotine is as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol. But almost none said an employer had ever tried to help them.
Smoking kills half a million Americans each year and costs more than $300 billion, CDC says.