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What You’re Missing About Hospitality Employee Tobacco Use

June 1, 2022
By Pivot
Hotel employee on the phone

Hospitality is a fast-paced, customer-centric industry

So it’s no surprise that employers may not have a good pulse on employee use of tobacco while at work. Nearly half (48%) of hospitality employers surveyed say they have ‘limited,’ ‘very limited,’ or ‘no information at all’ about which employees are tobacco users. Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a clearer picture, reporting that 30% of workers in the hospitality and food services actually smoke tobacco onsite. 

COVID-19 has worsened the problem

When surveying workers, it became obvious that COVID-19 negatively impacts tobacco usage—especially among hospitality workers. Twenty-three percent of workers said they started using tobacco for the first time during COVID-19. Seventeen percent said they were using tobacco before COVID-19 but increased the amount during the pandemic. An equal percentage said they had quit using tobacco but started using it again during COVID-19. 

Why tobacco use is under the radar in the hospitality industry

There are several reasons why employers in the hospitality industry may not be aware of employee tobacco use. Most obvious is the fact that employees hide it. Around 68% of hospitality workers surveyed said they ‘always,’ ‘often,’ or ‘sometimes avoid’ revealing their tobacco use, and gave many reasons why. 

For example, 37% of those surveyed said they’re worried about their reputation at work. An equal percentage don’t think it’s a problem. Other reasons include not wanting to pay more for their health insurance (30%), wanting to keep their personal information private (32%), not wanting to be treated differently by their employer (29%), and not wanting to be nagged about quitting (24%).

Hospitality employers also identified these other reasons why they might not know about employee tobacco use:

  • Employees must self-report their tobacco use, and many choose not to (63%)
  • Employees are automatically registered as tobacco users in their system unless they choose to opt out (20%)
  • Lack of a good process in place to track information (17%)
  • More urgent programs to focus on (25%)
  • Lack of personnel needed to track this information (13%)

On-the-job tobacco use is occurring

Survey results indicate that high on-the-job tobacco use is occurring among workers in the hospitality industry, with 38% of hospitality workers saying they use tobacco on official breaks such as lunch breaks or coffee breaks. However, 30% also responded that they use tobacco during their downtime, and 26% say they use it while working. 

Where do hospitality workers use tobacco most? The most common place is designated smoking areas (58%). However, employees also use tobacco in the following places:

  • Their own vehicle (43%)
  • Any convenient location (43%)
  • A spot outside (42%)
  • Home office (30%)
  • Work-owned vehicle (22%)

Clearly, tobacco use occurs in a variety of places, which can impact integral things for hospitality employers like brand perception, employee productivity, customer experience, lost work hours, and more.

Employers are concerned about such use but are understanding

Nearly half (48%) of employers in the hospitality industry say they’re concerned about vaporized and combustible nicotine use, with 38% stating they want to help people quit the use of combustible tobacco. A majority of employers (62%) are sympathetic and understand that tobacco use is a chronic health condition that is best managed by offering accessible and non-stigmatizing healthcare services.

Hospitality employers are offering tobacco cessation as a solution

A large majority of hospitality employers (71%), including many of your own peers, are increasingly taking the appropriate steps to provide workers with solutions like tobacco cessation programs as part of the 2022 employee benefits package to help them quit smoking, and chewing, or vaping tobacco. 

Offering a smoking cessation program shows employees that you care about their health and well-being, an important step to take during a time when employee turnover in the hospitality industry is at an all-time high. One-third of current hospitality workers who participated in a recent external survey reported being ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with their jobs - twice that of pre-pandemic levels - and 39% of survey respondents who previously worked in hospitality say lack of benefits is a reason why they won’t return. 

What’s the key to attracting and retaining hospitality workers? 

Focusing on employee health and wellness, one aspect of which is tobacco cessation. Now is the time to differentiate yourself from other employers in the hospitality industry that don’t provide this benefit.

Cessation programs are important but underused

Survey results indicate that employees and employers in the hospitality industry both see the value in tobacco cessation programs. Nearly all (97%) of employers in the hospitality industry say it’s ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important to offer a no-cost tobacco cessation program for employees who are interested. Around 80% of hospitality workers surveyed feel this way as well.

Employers in the hospitality industry know that workers want and need help with tobacco cessation, with 86% of employers surveyed saying they’re ‘very likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’ to participate in a company-provided tobacco cessation program. A considerable number of employees (77%) agree.

Help your employees help themselves

With age-old problems come modern-day solutions 

Check out these five components needed to have a successful tobacco cessation program offering at your company:

  1. Track success. Nearly all employers in the hospitality industry monitor the success of their tobacco cessation program, there’s no consistency in measurement. For example, track the number of tobacco users who start the program, the number who complete the program, self-reported feedback, healthcare costs due to tobacco-related illness, work outcomes, and the number of employees who no longer pay a surcharge.
  2. Make it easy to join. For example, can employees start at any time? Is the program accessible to all tobacco users regardless of readiness to quit or type of tobacco used? 
  3. Raise awareness. Put effort into ensuring all employees are aware of the program and that they won’t be stigmatized for participation. Also highlight the benefits of participation, including any reduced healthcare costs and better health. 
  4. Provide flexible options for participation. Give workers the choice of an in-person, mobile app, and phone or video call, if possible.
  5. Be available to answer questions. This may be new territory for many workers, and they may need to feel supported before taking that first step.

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2022 Hospitality Industry Employee Tobacco Use Trends

Download our latest benchmark report and learn how to effectively combat rising, hidden employee tobacco use.

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