Smokers who feel ripped off by the several dollars a pack they pay for cigarettes should realize that they're getting off easy. In a new book, Duke health economists calculate that the real price over a lifetime of smoking amounts to nearly $40 a pack.
In The Price of Smoking, the economists calculated this sum by analyzing all the costs of smoking--including expenses for cigarettes and excise taxes, for life and property insurance, medical care for the smoker and for the smoker's family, and lost earnings due to disability. Their analysis found that the cost for a twenty-four-year-old smoker over sixty years was $220,000 for a man and $106,000 for a woman, or a total of about $204 billion nationally over sixty years.
Differing from previous smoking studies, the new analysis includes a wider range of costs over a smoker's entire lifetime, drawing on such data as Social Security earnings histories dating back to 1951. Most smoking studies rely on data that provide a snapshot of annual costs, says co-author Frank Sloan, professor of economics and director of the Center for Health, Policy, Law, and Management at the Sanford Institute of Public Policy.
The authors found that smokers' costs to society are less than generally believed--about $1.44 of the $40-per-pack total--when costs to the smoker's family are not included. "The reason the number is low is that for private pensions, Social Security, and Medicare--the biggest factors in calculating costs to society--smoking actually saves money," Sloan says. "Smokers die at a younger age and don't draw on the funds they've paid into those systems."