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New study shows effects of smoking on employee wages

Published: Sunday, July 21 2013 11:44 a.m. MDT

According to the Center for Disease Control, 43.8 Americans were smokers as of 2011. The American Lung Association reports that roughly half of all smokers have attempted to quit the habit at least once in the past year.

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It is better to have smoked and stopped than never to have smoked at all, according to new research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Those who quit smoking for at least a year, according to the study, earned higher wages than smokers and people who never picked up the habit.

In fact, nonsmokers earn roughly 5 percent less than former smokers in the workplace.

But why?

According the researchers, the characteristics of former smokers are typically more highly rewarded in the workplace, namely the persistence, patience and “everything else that goes along with being able to quit.”

That may explain why former smokers are able to impress their supervisors, but still leaves the question of why a smoker would earn less than someone who never started.

Though it would make sense that frequent smoking breaks might curb productivity, resulting in unsatisfied employers, the research doesn’t suggest that’s the case.

“If the productivity was affected by smoking, than heavier smokers would have a much larger wage gap,” M. Melinda Pitts, one of the lead researchers on the study, told the Wall Street Journal. “We didn’t find support for this hypothesis.”

Pitts and her fellow researcher, Julie L. Hotchkiss, believe the wage gap between smokers and nonsmokers comes from more nuanced factors, like education level of the average smoker and the employer’s tolerance to smoking behavior.

Read more about smokers' wages on The Wall Street Journal.

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