The Cost of Smoking: All Dollars and No Sense


photo: ganesha.isis

There are many arguments in favor of quitting smoking. Some focus on health concerns, complete with pictures of desiccated lungs and gobs of arterial plaque. Some arguments appeal to vanity, describing how smokers’ teeth and fingers turn yellow and their skin ages prematurely. Others appeal to posterity, featuring children orphaned by smoking-related diseases.

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. and although rates have fallen a bit in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 23% of adults between ages 25 and 44 still smoke. Apparently, appeals to our sense of self-preservation and vanity just aren’t enough.

One of the problems with the usual arguments is that some people find it hard to imagine consequences that won’t take effect for 20, 30, or 40  years. But there’s one effect of smoking that everyone can feel immediately, and that’s the direct cost: not just what it costs the country or health insurance companies, but rather smoking’s very real—and very hefty—impact on people’s pocketbooks.

Cigarettes: Bad for Your Body, Bad for Your Budget

As of October 2010, the average cost of a pack of cigarettes was $5.29, according to Tobacco Free Kids. That cost varies throughout the country, depending on local and state excise taxes. On top of the manufacturer’s cost, federal taxes are now $1.01 per pack and states add their own stiff tariffs to incentivize people to kick the habit. Currently, New York leads the nation with a $4.35 state tax on cigarettes, followed closely by Rhode Island, which levies $3.46 per pack.

Even for smokers in average-cost areas, $5.29 daily adds up quickly. What could you do with that extra five bucks in your pocket each day?

In one week, a smoker could save about $36, enough to go on a movie date, eat out for lunch every workday, pay a weekly health insurance premium, get a manicure and pedicure, or buy a tank of gas for a small- to medium-size car.

In one month, a smoker would save about $144. With that money, the person could get a monthly deep-tissue massage, splurge on an expensive new pair of shoes, have a nice dinner out, upgrade to a professional colorist instead of doing at-home haircare, or pay the monthly bill for a smartphone with unlimited minutes and data.

In one year, smokers who quit would save almost $1,880 each. They could put a down payment on a new car, take a vacation, repay credit card debt, buy a top-of-the-line computer, or replace all the major appliances in their kitchen.

In five years, a smoker could save almost $9,400. That money could go toward making a down payment on a house or an apartment, paying off school loans, remodeling part of a home, or buying an expensive piece of jewelry for a loved one.

In the long term, there’s almost no limit to what people can buy with money that otherwise would have gone toward cigarettes. If parents stop smoking when their child is born, by the time the kid is 18, they’ll have saved almost $34,000 for his or her college education, not counting interest. If a 30-year-old quits smoking and instead puts the savings into a retirement account at 6% interest, she’ll have saved an extra $150,000 by the time she’s ready to retire, not counting employer matches.

Smoking’s the Way to a Pauper’s Grave

Besides the better causes their cigarette money could subsidize, smokers incur many other extra costs. Some companies require smokers to pay $20 to $50 extra per month for their health insurance; insurers and employers all know that smokers are more prone to chronic health problems, so they charge accordingly. In some states, employers can legally refuse to hire smokers because of the increased costs. Life insurance is also more expensive for smokers, as is homeowners’ and renters’ insurance. Like it or not, to an insurance company, smokers are more likely to accidentally burn down their house, so they generally pay about 10% more for their habit.

Smokers might be out of luck when trying to sell their home, too. Most real estate professionals say that it’s very difficult to sell a house when the occupants smoke. At the very least, the house will need expensive cleaning services to eliminate the residue from carpets and upholstery, but some houses need the entire HVAC system, carpets, and drapes replaced before it will sell. That’s a potential investment of thousands of dollars.

Every November, we celebrate the Great American Smokeout, helping smokers across the country muster up the willpower and the resources to quit. Besides your health, your appearance, and your life, there are a million other reasons to stop smoking, and they’re all sitting in your bank account.

The Cost of Smoking: All Dollars and No Sense was provided by


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