Adding up the costs of smoking

Your Money

February 11, 2007|By Gregory Karp | Gregory Karp,Morning Call

Cigarette smokers have long been assailed for the damaging health effects of their habit. They are often banned from lighting up at work, in restaurants and in public indoor places.

Still, 1 in 5 Americans is a smoker, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So here's another reason to kick the habit: It could break you financially and cost your family long after you're gone.

The cost of buying cigarettes alone is no incidental expense. American smokers spent more than $80 billion on cigarettes in 2005, according to the most recent statistics from the CDC. A pack-a-day smoker could easily spend $2,000 a year.

That's more than the average American spends on clothing in a year and close to the average spending on health care, entertainment and dining out, according to federal government data on consumer expenditures.

"Financially, most people can't afford to smoke," said Saul Shiffman, a University of Pittsburgh psychology professor and director of the school's smoking research group. "It's a very significant percentage of expenditures, especially for people who don't have a lot of discretionary income."

Research shows that smokers often have less education and less money, he said.

"The people still smoking tend to be the people who are in more financial distress," he said. "For them especially, continuing to smoke represents a substantial financial stress and burden."

Smokers can be motivated to quit by many things. So if your New Year's resolution to quit has failed, here are a few financial reasons to try again:

Cost of cigarettes. At $5 a pack, cigarettes cost a pack-a-day smoker $1,825 a year and more than $18,000 in a decade.

Opportunity costs. The costs become crazier if you took the opportunity to invest that money instead of watching it go up in smoke. One eye-opening calculation was done by Michael Rabinoff, a psychiatrist and author of Ending the Tobacco Holocaust: How Big Tobacco Affects Our Health, Pocketbook and Political Freedom - And What We Can Do About It.

Imagine you took $2,000 a year spent on smoking from age 18 to age 65 and invested it annually in a Roth IRA that returned 11 percent per year. You would have a tax-free cash hoard of nearly $3 million.

Collateral spending. The cost of cigarettes alone is not the only expense. Insurance is much higher for smokers - about 25 percent to 35 percent for life and health insurance, for example, Shiffman said. Other costs are more difficult to measure, but you can imagine spending more than nonsmokers on teeth cleaning and whitening, dry cleaning and replacing clothes and furniture marred by cigarette burns.

Then there's the lower resale value of vehicles and homes because they smell of smoke, which can total thousands of dollars.

There are other costs: In 1999, the CDC estimated the cost to the average smoker in the hidden expenses of health care and lost productivity totaled $7.18 per pack. "So, you're paying seven bucks up front for cigarettes, plus seven bucks in hidden costs for something that's going to kill you," Shiffman said. "It's not a good deal."

Instant ROI on quitting. Businesspeople always want to know the return on investment, or ROI, for money they spend. The ROI on investing in a smoking cessation program is a no-brainer. It doubles your chances of quitting, Shiffman said. An over-the-counter nicotine replacement system, whether gum, lozenges or patches, costs $4 to $5 a day. Meanwhile, many smokers easily spend more than that daily for cigarettes. So paying for treatment is cheaper than smoking.

Cost to your family. Besides the obvious harm to your family from secondhand smoke - which costs nonsmoking Americans nearly $6 billion a year, according to the American Academy of Actuaries - your family is paying for your habit in other ways.

If you're a breadwinner in the family, your likelihood for premature death starts kicking in during your late 40s and early 50s, your prime income-earning years, Shiffman said. That robs your survivors of whatever income and greater inheritance they might have had if you had quit sooner.

And through the years, all those thousands of dollars spent on smoking could have instead been spent on family vacations, for example.

Gregory Karp writes for The Morning Call, in Allentown, Pa.

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