Smoking in the Workplace

The Smoke-Free Ontario Act

Workplaces have a legal responsibility to comply with the Smoke-Free Ontario Act (SFOA), a provincial strategy to protect non-smokers from exposure to second-hand smoke, help smokers quit, and to encourage young people to never start. Enacted on May 31, 2006, the Smoke-Free Ontario Act bans smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces at all times, even when people are not working.

The Smoke-Free Ontario Act defines an enclosed workplace as the inside of a building, structure or vehicle that an employee works in or frequents during the course of their employment and includes common areas such as washrooms, lobbies and parking garages. Examples of an enclosed workplace include the inside of a trailer office on a construction site, the inside of a loading dock, or the inside of a delivery truck. The ban on smoking in an enclosed workplace is in effect at all times, even during off-hours when people are not working. An employer who provides an outdoor shelter for smoking must ensure it consists of no more than two walls and a roof.

For additional information about the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, go to Smoke-Free Ontario. If you have questions about or complaints about compliance with the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, please call Region of Waterloo Public Health at 519-575-4400.

Financial Impact

In 2006, The Conference Board of Canada (CBC) updated their report to Health Canada detailing the costs of employing workers who smoke. Tobacco use causes poor health, and poor employee health results in increased absenteeism, higher health insurance claims, and a higher number of workplace injuries.i A comprehensive and integrated workplace wellness strategy that includes support for smoking cessation can help improve worker health and reduce tobacco-use related costs.ii

The Conference Board of Canada (2006) estimated that for every employee who smokes it costs the employer an extra $3,396 each year through increased absenteeism, decreased productivity and higher smoking facilities costs.

 Cost Factor Cost in 2006 (Cdn $)
 Increased Absenteeism 323
 Decreased Productivity 3,053
 Increased life insurance costs Not Available
 Smoking facilities costs 20

For more information on the costs related to employing workers who smoke, please see the Background section of the Tobacco Free Living: What Works at Work! Project Health Toolkit.

Supporting Tobacco-Free Living in the Workplace

In today's economy, many workplaces are identifying the benefits of promoting wellness in the workplace. Helping employees be tobacco free is one of the best things employers can do to improve worker health and it can improve the company's bottom line.

The workplace is an ideal setting to encourage tobacco-free living and can provide a supportive social environment that is helpful for quitting. Workplaces with restrictive smoking policies encourage smokers to cut down or quit and help those who are already smoke free to remain so. iii

Seven reasons Employers Should Promote Tobacco-Free Living: iv

  1. Improved employee health - employees who don't smoke take fewer sick days, go on disability less often, and are less likely to retire early because of poor health
  2. Increased productivity - employees may take fewer unscheduled smoking breaks which could impact productivity
  3. Reduced costs -reduce costs of absenteeism and potential loss of skills, knowledge, and corporate memory due to premature death and early retirement of smoking employees; reduce facilities costs (maintenance and clean up costs associated with littering of and damage caused by discarded cigarettes)
  4. Enhanced job satisfaction - most people who smoke want to quit and many smokers would welcome smoking cessation programs offered by their employers; the majority of smokers and non-smokers prefer to work in a smoke-free environment; employees have been shown to be more productive, have increased morale, and an increased sense of loyalty in smoke-free environments
  5. Effective setting - workplaces are ideal settings in which to address tobacco use because many people spend a large proportion of their time at work; workplaces are convenient locations for people to access information and support; workplaces can provide the supportive social environment necessary for quitting smoking; smoke-free workplaces encourage those who smoke to cut down or quit, and help those who are already tobacco free to stay that way
  6. Better corporate image - workplaces that are committed to the health of their employees portray a positive image and are respected within the workplace and broader community; a better corporate image may help to attract and retain talented workers
  7. Complying with legislation - the Smoke-Free Ontario Act came into effect on May 31, 2006, making all enclosed public places and enclosed workplaces 100 per cent smoke free to protect employers and employees from exposure to second hand smoke; by providing a smoke-free environment, employers protect themselves from liability related to the exposure of employees to an identified workplace hazard

Strategies to Promote Tobacco-Free Living in the Workplace

Promoting tobacco-free living in the workplace doesn't have to be complicated, expensive or time consuming. It's a matter of making a commitment to workplace health, finding out what kinds of initiatives employees want, developing a plan, and putting some activities in place. In order to make the greatest impact on the health of your employees, consider using each of the following health promotion approaches.

Awareness Raising Activities

Provide information to employees about the benefits of tobacco-free living (e.g. displays, health fairs, pamphlets, newsletters, etc.)

Skill Building Activities

Help educate employees to develop the necessary skills to live tobacco-free (e.g. self-help resources, lunch and learn sessions, telephone counselling, web-based programming, etc.)

Supportive Environment

Create a workplace that strengthens and enhances employees' health practices and makes it easier for employees to live tobacco-free (e.g. extended health benefits coverage of smoking cessation aids, employee assistance program that provides smoking cessation counselling, etc.)

Policy Development

Enhance and sustain healthy practices by clarifying roles and expectations between employers and employees (e.g. designated smoking area, smoke-free grounds, etc.)

Additional Information

For detailed information on how to promote tobacco-free living in the workplace, see the Tobacco-Free Living: What Works at Work! Toolkit on the Project Health  website.

If you would like more information or support to promote tobacco-free living in the workplace, please contact Project Health at or 519-575-4400.


i Hallamore, C. Smoking and the Bottom Line: Updating the costs of smoking in the workplace [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): Conference Board of Canada; 2006 [cited 2013 May 28]. Available from:

ii Lamontagne E, Stonebridge C. Smoking cessation and the workplace: Briefing 2 - Smoking cessation programs in Canadian workplaces [Internet]. Ottawa, (ON): The Conference Board of Canada; 2013 June [cited 2013 June 28]. Available from:

iii York Region. Good Business... better health. A comprehensive guide for smoke-free workplaces [Internet]. [place unknown]; date unknown [cited 2013 Jul 10]. Available from:

iv Health Canada. Smoking Cessation in the Workplace: A Guide to Helping Your Employees Quit Smoking [Internet]. 2008 [cited 2013 Jul 10]. Available from: