Is Smoking Good for the Nation’s Economy?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Congress never makes a move regarding health care without first considering the financial costs involved. But the latest twist on the cost-benefit question raises the point of whether the nation would be better off—from a purely bottom-line perspective—if more people smoked.

When Congress passed legislation last week that put the Food and Drug Administration in charge of cigarette regulation, all kinds of numbers were touted that demonstrated how much smoking costs the United States: $96 billion in direct health care costs; and $97 billion in lost productivity for employers.
But Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi has produced numbers that show less smoking actually means more financial costs for the country; for every pack of cigarettes smoked, the country reaps a net cost savings of 32 cents, according to Viscusi. The reason? The more people smoke, the sooner they die—and that means reduced costs for Social Security, Medicare, and long-term health costs to take care of people in their seventies, eighties, etc. According to the Centers for Disease Control, non-smokers live about ten years longer than smokers.
Now, it’s fair to point out that Viscusi used to crunch numbers for the tobacco industry during its lawsuit battles with the states. But other researchers also have statistics that back up his claims. A Dutch study published last year reported that, because non-smokers live longer, lifetime health care costs for smokers, age 20 and up, were about $326,000 per person, compared to about $417,000 for healthy, non-overweight, non-smokers.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
FACT CHECK: Do Smokers Cost Society Money? (by Erica Werner, Associated Press)


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