Smoke breaks may be costing employers more than they think, with U.K. businesses losing around $14.50 billion a year, according to a new study.
The average British smoker takes four smoking breaks during the work day, lasting around 10 minutes each, as well as taking nearly an entire day more in sick leave a year than non-smokers, a study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found.
(Read more: If you want to earn more money, quit smoking)
"This equates to 136 hours of lost productive time every year for the average smoker – costing the average business 1,522 pounds (around $2,537) in unproductive wages," CEBR said. It noted smokers make up around 20 percent of the U.K. workforce.
The extra cost of a smoking employee may be higher in the U.S. A Gallup poll late last year estimated employers were dunned an extra $3,077 a year for each smoker, assuming it cost $341 for each complete missed workday and around $13 a day for partial-absenteeism due to recurring smoke breaks.
In addition, healthcare costs for smokers were around $2,056 a year higher compared with non-smokers, the poll found, noting around 19.1 percent of U.S. workers smoke.
"Workers who smoke cost the U.S. economy an estimated $278 billion annually in lost productivity due to absenteeism and extra healthcare costs," Gallup said. "These individuals report more than seven additional unhealthy days and about 2.5 additional missed workdays each year compared with their counterparts who do not smoke."
Smoking isn't doing workers any favors either. Smokers only earn about 80 percent of what non-smokers earn, according to a paper last year from Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta economists Julie Hotchkiss and Melinda Pitt. People who used to smoke and quit more than a year earlier, though, earn 7 percent more than people who never lit up in the first place.
(Read more: US surgeon general calls for end of tobacco epidemic)
The two researchers attribute about 60 percent of the wage gap between smokers and nonsmokers to demographic differences—collectively, smokers tend to be less-educated than nonsmokers, for instance—but the rest were ascribed to what they called, "unmeasured factors."
They and other experts theorize that there could be personality traits that differentiate current smokers, former smokers and nonsmokers, such as ex-smokers' development of increased self-discipline.
(Read more: Why employers should watch unfaithful spouses)
There is hope for employers. The CEBR study found most U.K. smokers would welcome efforts by their employers to help them quit smoking. In the U.S., cost savings from having insurers cover smoking cessation programs can be large.
The cost of a smoking cessation program can range from $144-$804 per smoker, compared with estimated savings of around $1.3 million a year per 10,000 smokers, according to a 2012 actuarial study from Leif Associates.
Tobacco isn't the only sin that costs employers. Alcohol was estimated to cost around 7.3 billion pounds a year in lost productivity in the U.K., according to the 2012 Government Alcohol Strategy. While in the U.S., about 72 percent of the $223.5 billion cost of excessive alcohol consumption was due to lost workplace productivity, according to a 2006 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1