The day is long and you have hours to go, stocking shelves or serving customers before you get your half-hour break (an hour, if lucky). You toil away and do your job, glad to be there really because finding work is no easy feat either when suddenly, out of the back/ emergency door enters the smoker! As exhausted as if they have run for miles, stinking of tobacco, they grin with mischief evident as their need for a quick puff kicks in. Silently, you mutter a swear because these people take the breaks you don’t get and all for the simple reason that they chose to shorten their lives. Is this fair?
It is common knowledge that by law (under the “Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997”) that for every 4 hours and a 30 minutes, a person is entitled to at least a 15 minute break. For every six hours, 30 minutes. As regards the elusive full hour, this breeds in to various regulations regarding the work but generally, it is not acceptable to have more than sixty minutes for the average working day. This is important because smokers may just be feeding into the full time they may feel is rightfully theirs.
But what about non-smokers?
It is not possible to assess each and every workplace’s regulations here and now. What is evident to a great number of people however is that in their line of work, it is not fair-play. Smokers are often taking breaks which are justified because it is seen as a necessary product (you know, in line with bread, water and basics) in our cultural wasteland. The employers are technically in charge of dictating allowances for periods whereby people can smoke. In some areas, smokers may just get a couple of minutes a day and in others, nearly half an hour. The question is that if we are to accept this, should non-smokers not also be allowed the same amount of breaks (for ice cream, tuna, roller-skating- whatever they wish?) For most places, this just doesn’t seem to make any sense!
Smokers are Jokers
This article isn’t meant merely as a jab at smokers but it is necessary, in examining whether they should be allowed their breaks, to first consider what these breaks are for. When smokers take their two or three minutes, they are essentially taking time off to give themselves cancer. So, before thinking what is right, let’s just remember: 7,000 people die from smoking related diseased in Ireland every year (Department of Health), there is an average of 23 cigarettes per smoker every day (aviva.ie) and the prices aren’t getting any cheaper. There is NO benefit but people go on smoking (perhaps because they want the break at work?). Interestingly too, though not defining to this study, female smokers are said to (on average) smoke twice the amount as men. This may perhaps be a reflection of the work environments dominated by female workers? This may also have no relevance but bear in mind, as we ask the questions:
1. Should smokers be allowed the extra breaks?
2. If yes, should non-smokers be allowed these breaks too?
A poll on boards.ie (back in 2005) found that 69.54% (of an admittedly small but relevant 151 voters) thought that non-smokers should be entitled to breaks relevant to the smokers. Comments ranged in subject, considering the amount of time smokers get for breaks to whether it matters, if they still get the work done (a fair point).
One could argue that since then, the working world has gotten a little bit more intense. Can we forgive these smokers their indulgence then? Or should we just let them do what they want but also give the same relief breaks to those, too clever to fill their lungs with toxins? Should we perhaps just say “no,” altogether to these smoking breaks and make them do it on their one lunch break, which they share with others? There is no correct answer but by all means, it is not the first.
Any smokers want to shed some light?