Cigarettes are addictive stuff.
Since tobacco products first became big business, workplaces all over the world have had little choice but to give addicted staff regular breaks to get their nicotine fix.
While smokers would probably argue five minutes here and there doesn’t make much difference to the day, it all adds up to one significant cigarette social event, and non-smokers aren’t invited.
Surely it’s only fair for everyone to have the same opportunity to get away from work for a while. If smokers get cigarette breaks, shouldn’t non-smokers get fresh-air breaks?
We put it to the UK public, and found:
- 80% of people don’t think it’s fair that smokers get breaks but non-smokers don’t
- 58% of people think that non-smokers should get regular fresh-air breaks at work
The case for fresh-air breaks
An overwhelming majority of people think it’s unfair smokers get to spend so much of their day tending to their habit while non-smoking colleagues slave away.
As controversial as it may be, there are a number of reasons why fresh-air breaks should become a thing:
1. Breaks are great for productivity
Everyone will be familiar with that flagging feeling you experience after a few hours’ hard work: your brain starts to numb, thoughts start to wander and procrastination soon sets in.
But taking regular breaks from an ongoing task has been shown (in a study by the University Of Illinois) to improve your ability to focus for prolonged periods of time.
So when you’re losing concentration and can’t seem to get things done, a fresh-air break could help you come back to the task refreshed and full of energy.
2. They’re (apparently) good for your health
The modern sedentary lifestyle isn’t a good one. So many of us spend far too much time sitting a desk and too little time exercising.
But with fresh-air breaks that all changes. Encouraging everyone to take time to get up, stretch and walk around for a while at regular intervals, they’re the perfect opportunity for the more health-conscious among us to increase their daily step count.
In fact, a 2015 study from the University of Utah showed that engaging in light physical activity for just two minutes an hour could reduce the risk of an early death by a staggering 33%. So while smokers are dragging themselves closer to death’s door, non-smokers could be spending that time doing the exact opposite.
3. Workplace equality
Smoking is a choice.
In today’s society it’s a choice that’s relatively frowned upon, so why should smokers get more breaks than people who decide not to?
80% of people in the Flavour Boss survey said they don’t think it’s fair that non-smokers aren’t offered the chance to take a brief break away from their post every so often. So, in the interests of equality, either we take the privilege away from smokers or we grant the privilege to everyone.
The case against fresh-air breaks
If so many people think it’s unfair for smokers to get breaks when non-smokers don’t, then why is there a 22% discrepancy when it comes to people who think fresh-air breaks should be introduced?
Possibly because there are some pretty compelling arguments against the idea:
1. It’s not practical
In a world where absolutely everyone is entitled to regular breaks, things are likely to get a little chaotic.
The chances of people being away from their desks when they’re needed increases. The whole concept could cause major disruption, with additional time being spent coordinating who goes on their break and at what time.
At least as things are, only a few people go missing sporadically throughout the day, keeping any damage to a minimum.
2. It wouldn’t always work
Unfortunately not every business is really equipped for fresh-air breaks.
While most places have a designated smoking area, there aren’t many other options for going outside. And hanging out with the smokers is a sure-fire way to negate any of the positive reasons to take a regular breather.
More companies are investing in indoor and outdoor breakout areas for staff, but this isn’t a universal thing just yet. Until it is, fresh-air breaks may be a little tricky to introduce.
3. The cost to the employers
As they are, smoking breaks aren’t ideal. They cost companies around the world time and money, with smoking staff spending precious working minutes tending to their nicotine addiction every day.
Say the average employee smokes four cigarettes a day, and each cigarette takes five minutes to smoke. That’s 20 minutes of additional breaks a day. 20 minutes a day equates to one hour and 40 minutes a week. That’s more than 86 hours over a 12-month period. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of giving smokers around ten extra days’ holiday a year.
Imagine if everyone spent this much time away from their desks every day! The amount of time ‘wasted’ in the eyes of employers would skyrocket.
In this case, the focus should be on reducing the amount of time smokers spend away from their desks, rather than increasing that amount of time across the workforce.
Could vaping be the answer?
Speaking of reducing the amount of time smokers spend away from their desks, vaping could be the solution.
In 2015 Public Health England found that vaping is “approximately 95% safer to users than smoking” with “no evidence of harm to bystanders”. Legally, smoking and vaping are very different practices, so (contrary to common misconceptions) current laws on smoking don’t apply to e-cigarettes.
This means companies have every right to allow vaping in the office and are encouraged by PHE to draw up an official vaping policy.
With the reduced health risks, lower costs for users and better public image associated with vaping, it shouldn’t be difficult to persuade smoking staff to switch. Combined with the right policy, e-cigarettes could eventually spell the end of smoking breaks, eliminating the issue altogether.
Will fresh-air breaks ever happen?
While there’s certainly a good argument to step away from your desk every once in a while, the prospect of everyone taking regular breaks throughout the day isn’t one companies are likely to welcome with open arms.
Permitting people to vape at their desks, however, is a different story. Reducing time spent on smoking and increasing time spent on work, it’s the potential answer to an age-old office culture question.