Smokers should be allowed time off work without losing pay to help them kick the habit, the government's independent health advisers have said.
The proposal is part of guidance issued this morning by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) advising how best to help workers adjust to the smoking ban in England when it comes into force on July 1st 2007.
Information should also be provided on local stop smoking services, Nice claims.
It is estimated that smoking costs the NHS £1.5 billion each year and costs industry an estimated £5 billion in lost productivity, absenteeism and fire damage.
Helping employees to give up smoking, Nice argues, will benefit businesses in the long run as a smokefree workforce will result in increased productivity.
Andrew Dillon, chief executive of Nice, said: "Going smokefree is a win-win situation for both employers and employees, and our advice sets out the best approach to making it happen.
"Our advice is based on the best evidence of which workplace approaches are effective for smokers and make business sense for employers. Both the health and financial benefits to employees and businesses of providing stop smoking support in the workplace are clear, and this guidance can help organisations to become smoke free successfully."
Dr Catherine Law, chair of the public health interventions advisory committee at Nice, added: "Providing support at work will reach people who may not usually seek help to stop smoking, such as young men."
Responding to Nice's guidance, Mary Boughton, chairwoman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said that the advice had come at "just the right time".
"Given the forthcoming ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces this support can now extend to helping employees who wish to stop smoking," she added. "This situation works out well for employers and employees."
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