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Smoking Trends Amongst Unemployed

Monday, 17 October 2016

smoking-trends-among-employed-and-unemployed

According to the report on Adult Smoking Habits in Great Britain, 2013 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the proportion of smokers amongst the unemployed is almost twice as high as those who are employed. This doesn’t come as a surprise considering that the link between smoking and unemployment has been known for quite some time. What does come as a surprise, however, is the high disparity in smoking prevalence amongst the employed and unemployed individuals. 

We have therefore decided to take a closer look into the smoking trends amongst those who are unemployed including the number of cigarettes smoked per day, the proportion of ex-smokers and the proportion of those who have never smoked. To answer the question whether the trend is getting better or worse, our analysis refers to the period of 1990-2013 and therefore assesses the smoking trends prevalent among those who are employed in Britain. 

Smoking Prevalence Amongst the Unemployed Historically Higher than Amongst the Employed 

Figure 1: Smoking Prevalence Amongst the Employed and Unemployed, 1990-2013

Smoking-prevalence-amongst-employed-and-unemployed-1990-2013

Data Source: Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, General Lifestyle Survey and General Household Survey; Office for National Statistics (available from Adult Smoking Habits in Great Britain, 2013; ONS)

Figure 1 reveals that while smoking prevalence amongst unemployed individuals has been declining since 1990, it has always been considerably higher than their employed counterparts. Furthermore, the disparity in the proportion of smokers amongst the employed and unemployed has more or less remained unchanged. However, it is important to consider that smoking rates among the unemployed has dropped and in 2013, sat at around 38%, compared to just under 19% for those who smoke and are in work. Figure 1 also reveals that the smoking rates amongst the employed have been declining steadily as opposed to the smoking rates amongst the unemployed which has fluctuated considerably over the years. 

The Unemployed Smoke More Cigarettes than the Employed People 

Figure 2: Number of Cigarettes Smoked Per Day Amongst the Employed and Unemployed, 1990-2013 

Number-of-cigarettes-smoked-per-day-amongst-employed-and-unemployed-1990-2013

 
Data Source: Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, General Lifestyle Survey and General Household Survey; Office for National Statistics (available from Adult Smoking Habits in Great Britain, 2013; ONS)

Figure 2 shows that unemployed individuals are not only more likely to smoke, but they are also more likely to smoke more cigarettes than those in employment. The difference in the number of cigarettes smoked per day, however, is not as dramatic as the difference in the prevalence of smokers. What is more, back in 1994, interestingly, those in employment and those who were unemployed at one point smoked 15 cigarettes a day. However, very soon after, a rapid decline for those in employment was noticed; against those who were not employed, where the number of cigarettes smoked per day continued to peak. 

The Proportion of Unemployed Ex-Smokers Continuously Nearly Twice as Low as the Proportion of Employed Smokers 

Figure 3: Proportion of Ex-Smokers Amongst the Employed and Unemployed, 1990-2013 

Proportion-of-ex-smokers-amongst-employed-and-unemployed-1990-2013

 
Data Source: Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, General Lifestyle Survey and General Household Survey; Office for National Statistics (available from Adult Smoking Habits in Great Britain, 2013; ONS)

Figure 3 shows a clear link between the likelihood of using smoking cessation methods against the economics of the time period in question. While the proportion of ex-smokers has been increasing amongst those who are employed and those who are unemployed, the disparity in the proportion of employed and unemployed smokers has more or less remained unchanged. Just like in 1990, the proportion of unemployed ex-smokers in 2013 was nearly twice as low as the proportion of employed ex-smokers. 

The Unemployed More Likely to Have Smoked than Employed Individuals 

Figure 4: Proportion of Those Who Have Never Smoked Amongst the Employed and Unemployed, 1990-2013

Proportion-of-those-who-have-never-smoked-amongst-employed-and-unemployed-1990-2013

 
Data Source: Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, General Lifestyle Survey and General Household Survey; Office for National Statistics (available from Adult Smoking Habits in Great Britain, 2013; ONS)

Figure 4 reveals that while the proportion of those who have never smoked has been increasing amongst those in employment and those who do not work, the disparity remains although it reduced considerably since 1990. Despite that, the proportion of those who have never smoked amongst the unemployed is still on the late 1990s level of their employed counterparts. 

The Unemployed Smokers Also More Likely to Remain Unemployed 

A recent American study that was published in the JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that unemployed smokers are also more likely to remain unemployed. Within a year, less than a third smokers who participated in the study managed to find a job. The success rate among non-smokers, on the other hand, was more than twice as high as those who were smokers looking for work. In addition, non-smokers were on average paid more than smokers. The study's authors noted that even when taking into account age, race, education and other factors that play a role in a person’s employability probability, smokers were still less likely to get a job than non-smokers. They noted that this could be due to a number of reasons including employers favouring non-smokers over smokers. Interestingly, smoking prevalence in some industries still exceeds the national smoking rate of 19%.

Interested in whether smoking job seekers in the UK are more likely to be turned down by their prospective employers just because they smoke, we asked managers of the companies that took part in one of our recent surveys to tell us their view of the issue. They said they are not allowed to ask job seekers if they smoke or reject a job candidate just because they are a smoker. However, many unofficially told us that if they can smell the candidate is a smoker, or see yellow stains from smoking on fingers or teeth, they are less likely to hire that candidate even if the latter has all the qualifications and meets all the criteria. 

Feature image credit: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock 

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