UAE: Smokers take more sick leaves, say doctors as they reveal shocking data

Global study finds smoking employees gain over three weeks of paid time off through smoking breaks a year

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Sahim Salim

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Published: Thu 13 Jun 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 13 Jun 2024, 11:50 PM

Employees calling in sick due to smoking-related illnesses is a serious source of concern, medical professionals have said. UAE-based doctors highlighted that they have written up to seven sick notes in a single day for patients who developed health complications due to their smoking habit.

The healthcare experts were talking to Khaleej Times as the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) called on employers to make workplaces tobacco-free.


Dr Jamsheer Kabeer, specialist Pulmonology and clinical lecturer, Thumbay University Hospital, said smokers tend to take more sick leaves.

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“The most common illnesses that require smokers to take leave include exacerbations of asthma and pulmonary infections such as pneumonia. Additionally, respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a frequent cause of absenteeism among smokers. Other common issues I encounter include chronic cough due to chronic bronchitis, often complicated by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),” the doctor said.

More severe conditions like lung cancer, pulmonary hypertension, and interstitial lung disease (ILD) necessitate extended sick leaves. “These illnesses not only significantly impact the smoker's health but also contribute to increased workplace absenteeism and healthcare costs,” Dr Jamsheer added.

Dr Salaheldin Ahmed Nasr Rezk, specialist internal medicine, Burjeel Medical Centre, Al Shamkha, said about 20 per cent of his monthly consultations are for smoking-related illnesses. Patients usually present with “risk factors such as hypertension, ischemic heart disease, and hyperlipidemia”.

Smoke-free offices

A smoke-free government and private sector office prohibits the use of tobacco in all its forms across the facility, including outdoor and parking areas.

In a guide the ministry released to make workplaces smoke-free this week, it addresses the issue of absenteeism. Going tobacco-free offers companies “evident economic returns” in the form of increased productivity of employees. It reduces “absenteeism rates resulting from smoking-related illnesses”, the ministry added.

Smoke breaks make it difficult to quit

A study in the US this year found that smoking at work makes it harder for people to quit. Over 60 per cent of the respondents in the study said smoking while working is a big reason they find it tough to stop. According to the survey conducted by Nicokick, more than half of the respondents (57 per cent) said they smoke during work to take a mental break.

The UAE health ministry said creating a tobacco-free workplace minimises employees' preoccupation with smoking, “allowing them to concentrate more on accomplishing the required tasks”.

Nicokick’s calculations suggest that smoking employees gain over three weeks of paid time off through smoking breaks a year.

Nicki Wilson, managing director of Dubai-based Genie Recruitment, said smokers do take breaks more regularly. However, she believes all employees should get regular breaks. “Perhaps, the smoking cancels out the health benefits of the break but it is good practice to break things up.”

Is vaping allowed in offices?

Many residents assume that the rules on cigarette smoking don’t apply to vaping. Some employees smoke inside their offices.

“I see an increase in people vaping … in workplaces, too. Which surely means that there is a higher proportion of risk to people’s health from vaping,” said Wilson.

However, as per prevailing laws, smoking e-cigarettes is prohibited inside offices and closed spaces across the UAE. That means e-cigarette users cannot expose their colleagues to second-hand smoke within office premises.

“Many assume that proper ventilation can eliminate the health risks associated with passive smoking, but scientific evidence confirms that ventilation systems only remove the smell and visible aspects of smoke, not the toxic substances causing cancer,” said the MoHAP in its guide. “As such, the only way to provide effective protection against passive smoking exposure consists, in the first place, in preventing people from inhaling indirect smoke.”

With inputs from SM Ayaz Zakir

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