Workfloor dilemmas: convincing employees to stop smoking

Every day, entrepreneurs turn to the KVK Advisory Team with staff-related questions and dilemmas. In our article series on 'Workplace dilemmas', we answer some of the most frequently asked questions. In this article: how do you encourage staff to stop smoking?

The case: "More than half of my employees smoke. Now I know that this is unhealthy and certainly increases the risk of sick leave in the long term. It's a private choice, but as an entrepreneur, I run the risk of sickness costs. What can and cannot I do, if I want to encourage employees to quit smoking?"

In short, the answer from the KVK advisers: As an employer, you are not allowed to ask whether your employee smokes, nor can you ban smoking. However, you can go for a smoke-free work environment, both inside and outside the premises. When an employee shares with you that he wants to quit smoking, you can offer support.

The line between personal and professional

Employees have the right to decide whether they want to smoke or not. It is a personal choice. In all likelihood, they will not want their employer to comment on their habits. This can put employers in a tricky position. After all, smokers usually have poorer health than non-smokers. Non-smokers call in sick (in Dutch) once a year on average, while smokers call in sick 1.4 times a year - a 40% difference. Smoking is by far the highest risk factor (in Dutch) for disease in the Netherlands and has been linked to cancer, COPD, and heart disease. Every year, more than 20,000 people in the Netherlands die from the consequences of smoking or second-hand smoke.

So, smoking has indirect consequences for the employer's financial situation: it can cause sick leave. Or even worse: for complete absenteeism. Employees' smoking behaviour can also harm non-smoking colleagues who consciously or unconsciously smoke along.

For you as an employer, it has many advantages when your employees do not smoke. But you can only say something about this when it comes to smoking in the work environment.


It is important to know what you are and are not allowed to do with regard to your employees’ smoking habits.


The law prohibits employers from asking employees about their smoking habits and from asking them to stop smoking if applicable. Only company doctors are allowed to do this, because smoking is considered part of a person’s medical information. The company doctor is also allowed to recommend that employees stop smoking.

Smoking areas at work

Indoor smoking rooms in business premises have been banned as of 1 January 2022. People are still allowed to smoke outside or in a smoking shelter. Since 2004, employees have been entitled to a smoke-free workplace (in Dutch).

Smoking on the job

You are not allowed to ban smoking, but you are allowed to ban smoking breaks. After all, employers have the right to issue instructions, practices, and rules. The rules must be reasonable and they must be diligently implemented.

National prevention agreement

The government wants the Netherlands to become a healthier country. To improve public health, it struck the National Prevention Agreement (in Dutch). This agreement also contains measures to curb smoking. Every week, hundreds of children become addicted to smoking. If they continue to smoke, there is more than a 50% chance that they will die from the consequences. That is why the Dutch government wants to create more smoke and tobacco-free public spaces, healthcare facilities, and companies, as well as providing accessible smoking cessation programmes.

Combat smoking

You cannot prevent sick leave due to smoking, but you can reduce it with the 5 tips below.

1. Show your support

Some 80% of smokers want to stop smoking (in Dutch). Let your staff know that you will support them if they want to stop smoking. Put this in your employee handbook and tell employees in person during performance reviews.
If an employee wants to talk to you about quitting smoking, remember that everyone has different needs and histories. Ask your employee about their needs and wishes. If they do not know what they need, advise them to take an online stop smoking test.

2. Create a non-smoking workplace

A non-smoking workplace encourages non-smoking behaviour. Employees who are allowed to smoke in the workplace are more likely to give into the urge to smoke. Indoor smoking areas were banned in 2022, but outdoor smoking areas are still permitted. Employers can also choose to go a step further and create a smoke-free zone outside. Clearly communicate that the company is a smoke-free environment by putting up posters and explain your reasons in a manifesto.

3. Offer a quit smoking programme

A quit programme provides support and clarity and increases the likelihood of quitting for good. There are both individual and group programmes. When several employees quit smoking at the same time, they can support each other and give tips. Quitting smoking together increases the chances of success (in Dutch). You can arrange a quit programme through an external party. Many health insurers offer (partial) reimbursement. If necessary, you can supplement the reimbursement if it is not complete.

4. Reimburse stop smoking aids

Support employees who want to stop smoking by reimbursing aids (in Dutch) like nicotine patches and quit programmes. This will increase their chances of succeeding (in Dutch). Tell your employees that you are willing to support them financially by reimbursing any aids they may need. Mention this in your employee handbook so that everyone knows. Also leave leaflets in the staff cafeteria.

5. Reward employees who try to stop smoking

By rewarding an employee's quit performance, you reduce the likelihood of relapse. In fact, a reward (in Dutch) produces one and a half times more perseverance than if your employee gets no reward. Go for a reward that builds up over time. For example, a gift voucher when starting after completing a quit programme, a team lunch when someone has stopped for three months and a team outing after one year. If necessary, go for a general reward for healthy behaviour and involve the two other pillars from the National Prevention Agreement: obesity and alcohol, so that non-smokers can also get involved.