Today, everyone can repeat the Surgeon General’s warning that smoking is terrible for your health. Given the high costs in terms of everyday spending, insurance rates, quality of life, and other effects, smoking is also extremely harmful to your wealth.
Direct costs of smoking – the high price of cigarettes
According to a 2002 study, the average smoker smokes 13 cigarettes per day. If we assume that a pack is 20 cigarettes, and the average pack costs $5, that’s $3.25 per day (= 13/20 * $5) or $1,187 per year. Obviously, the more you smoke, the more it’s costing you. With the federal tax per pack having been raised to over $1 combined with many state taxes at $2 (including Washington’s), the cost of cigarettes seems to only be going up ($6.33 per pack in Washington state as of this writing.)
For reference, a person in the 15% tax bracket could quit smoking their 13 cigarettes per day and contribute nearly $1,400 per year (pre-tax) to a 401k. If this person quit smoking at age 30 and retired at age 65, their 35 years’ worth of cigarette savings would’ve grown to $206,000 (in real dollars) given historical stock market returns of 7%.
Indirect monetary costs of smoking – insurance, job prospects, resale values
In an article on the high costs of smoking, MSN Money “pulled some online quotes on 20-year term life insurance (a $500,000 policy) for a healthy 44-year-old male … The lowest quote for a nonsmoker was $1,140 in premiums per year; for someone smoking a pack a day, the lowest price more than doubled to $2,571 per year.
[…] According to eHealthInsurance.com, the monthly premium for a policy from Regence Blue Shield with a $1,500 deductible for a 44-year-old male nonsmoker is $552 more a year [for smokers].
A few state governments also charge their employees extra for health insurance if they smoke, and others are gradually joining the trend.”
Additionally, home owner’s typically receive a 10% discount for being non-smokers, tacking on about $85 per year for smokers, given average home insurance premiums of $850.
“Numerous studies find that smokers earn anywhere from 4% to 11% less than nonsmokers. It’s not just a loss of productivity* to smoke breaks and poorer health that takes a financial toll, researchers theorize; smokers are perceived to be less attractive and successful as well.”
Add on higher dry cleaning bills, lower resale values of homes and cars (or money shelled out to clean them), and perhaps the occasional teeth whitening service, and you’re looking at a few to several thousand a year to smoke.
[* – I should note that in fairness to smokers, I’ve read assertions that other than early death, there are no appreciable losses in job productivity attributed to smokers. However, if employers believe there are anyway, smokers will still receive lower salaries, everything else being equal.]
Indirect non-monetary costs of smoking
Besides bad breath, yellow teeth and smelly personal effects, smoking seriously reduces one’s quality (and length) of life. The average smoker dies 7-8 years sooner than a non-smoker. In addition, they are way more likely to live an unhealthy (and therefore uncomfortable) old age, suffering higher incidences of various cancers, heart diseases and strokes:
“The number of people under the age of 70 who die from smoking-related diseases exceeds the total figure for deaths caused by breast cancer, AIDS, traffic accidents and drug addiction.”
There are other side effects as well due to reduced blood flow: “For men in their 30s and 40s, smoking increases the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) by about 50 per cent.” For both men and women, smokers’ skin develops more wrinkles and looks paler.
The sooner you quit, the better
The benefits of quitting become immediately apparent (including more cash in your pocket):
From Wikipedia: “The immediate effects of smoking cessation include:
- Within 20 minutes blood pressure returns to its normal level
- After 8 hours oxygen levels return to normal
- After 24 hours carbon monoxide levels in the lungs return to those of a non-smoker and the mucus begins to clear
- After 48 hours nicotine leaves the body and taste buds are improved
- After 72 hours breathing becomes easier
- After 2–12 weeks, circulation improves
Longer-term effects include:
- After 5 years, the risk of heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker
- After 10 years, the risk of lung cancer is almost the same as a non-smoker.”
While quitting is difficult due to the addictiveness of nicotine, there are several methods that greatly increase your chances of succeeding. Try to surround yourself with those who have quit smoking, or are non-smokers: “A study found … that smoking cessation by any given individual reduced the chances of others around them lighting up by the following amounts: a spouse by 67%, a sibling by 25%, a friend by 36%, and a coworker by 34%.” So if your significant other, friends or coworkers smoke, try to get them to quit too. You’ll both help each other succeed.
The best approach using pharmacological aids seems to be use of “[t]he Nicotine Patch plus [as needed] use of gum or spray” which “increased quit rates to 36.5%, the largest quit rate reported.” In addition, joining a social ‘support’ group seems to help. “Programs involving 8 or more treatment sessions can double success rates.” Use support lines like 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), to talk to an expert and increase your likelihood of success even further (live IM chat is available too.)
Despite all these methods, it often takes people more than one attempt to quit, so keep at it if it doesn’t work out the first time. Set a date to quit, then use the above resources to stick to it. You can get started by tossing your cigarettes & buying some nicotine patches and gum. Then, check out this free quitting guide at smokefree.gov.
Good luck, your bank account and body will thank you!