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Manufacturing Industry Tobacco Use Trends Employers Miss

July 5, 2022
By Pivot
Male and female manufacturing workers smoking cigarettes together

It’s a harsh reality for employers in the manufacturing industry that many employees use tobacco

But with tobacco use amongst the general public rising and a lack of concise data surrounding manufacturing employee tobacco use, it’s often hard to understand the true scope of your company's problem. 

That’s why we at Pivot have compiled everything you need to know from the latest research on manufacturing industry tobacco use trends after speaking with 115 manufacturing employers and over 300 manufacturing employees. Such insights can help you better grasp and regain control of your tobacco-using employee population. Learn more. 

Employee tobacco use has increased

The pandemic has elevated manufacturing employee tobacco consumption

When surveying manufacturing employees, a stark reality began to emerge surrounding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tobacco usage. 

Around 12% of surveyed workers stated that they started using tobacco for the first time during the pandemic; 19% responded that they were using tobacco before the pandemic and increased their usage, and 12% had previously quit using tobacco but started again during COVID-19. This does not include the 48% who were using tobacco before the COVID-19 pandemic and continued at the same rate during the pandemic. 

Our findings also highlighted a large gap between what manufacturing employers believed they knew about their employees' tobacco use – and reality.

Manufacturing employers are lost

When asked the following question – “does your company know which of your workers are tobacco users?” – 48% of employers responded that they had extensive information on employee tobacco usage. At the same time, many employers expressed doubt about the accuracy of their data on tobacco usage amongst their employees. Around 72% of the manufacturing employers surveyed stated that their employee tobacco usage data was less than “completely accurate.”

Such data underlines the juxtaposition of what employers believe they know versus the actual prevalence of manufacturing employee tobacco use. All the while, surveyed employers are willing to admit that their understanding of employee tobacco use isn’t 100% accurate.

Why do manufacturing employers often have incorrect data on tobacco use?

Manufacturing employers often have incorrect data related to employee tobacco use. This is due in part to the reliance employers have on workers to self-report their tobacco usage. In fact, 58% of employer respondents believed that self-reporting played a part in inaccurate tobacco-using worker data.

Other reasons included:

  • Workers are being motivated to disclose tobacco use (38%)
  • Employees are automatically registered as tobacco users in their system unless they choose to opt-out (26%)
  • Lack of a good process in place to track information (21%)
  • More urgent programs to focus on (27%)
  • Lack of personnel needed to track this information (19%)

This disconnect between employer perception versus reality is apparent when looking at employee responses. Almost two-thirds of manufacturing employee respondents admitted to avoiding revealing tobacco use to their employer (63%) and stated that even their health plan did not know about their tobacco use (23%). 

Manufacturing employees avoid revealing tobacco use for a litany of reasons

One of the most common reasons manufacturing employees avoid revealing their tobacco use is concern about their reputation at work. As an often stigmatized habit, tobacco use carries the potential to negatively impact perceptions of the tobacco user.

Additional reasons manufacturing employees avoid revealing tobacco use to their employer include:

  • They believe their tobacco usage isn’t a problem (34%)
  • To avoid paying a health insurance surcharge (29%)
  • They think that their tobacco use isn’t their employer’s business (36%)
  • They don’t want to be treated differently by their employer (35%)
  • They don’t want to be nagged to quit using tobacco (26%)

Despite the attempts made by workers to keep knowledge of their tobacco use under wraps, many of these same people actually use tobacco during work hours. This on-the-clock use may be more common than manufacturing employers think, and can be detrimental to employee productivity and health.

On-the-clock employee tobacco use has increased

When and where employees are using tobacco

Manufacturing survey respondents gave a candid look into their workplace tobacco use habits. While 43% stated that they only used tobacco on official breaks (i.e. lunch, coffee, etc.), 31% shared that they use tobacco any time they get a break (including waiting for assignments, etc.); 22% said they were able to use tobacco and work at the same time; and only 5% said they never use tobacco while on the job, even on breaks. And while designated smoking areas are the places where tobacco is most commonly used (59%), additional areas include an employee-owned vehicle (41%), any convenient location (42%), a spot outside of a workspace (41%), and in an employer-owned vehicle (19%).

But, with such prevalent tobacco usage among workers, what are employers to do?

Employee tobacco use is more complicated than meets the eye

Statistics such as these illustrate a more complicated landscape than meets the eye: tobacco use among manufacturing employees is not only on the rise but has encroached on day-to-day responsibilities. With tobacco use comes the potential to impact things such as brand perception, quality of work, healthcare costs, and health of the working population, to name a few.

There’s little progress to be made until employers can understand who is in their tobacco-using population. These efforts begin with motivated leaders who are ready to make tangible and widespread changes that come with providing benefits that have real, intrinsic value to workers.

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