On the costs of smoking

Letter to the editor

Posted: Monday, April 19, 2004

It is said that every pack of cigarettes bought and smoked costs the American people more than $7 in health care costs. However, every pack of cigarettes hypothetically bought and not smoked costs several times that much in social welfare costs. Think about it. If you smoke a pack a day and drop dead at 62, you won't have hips and knees replaced on our nickel and you won't collect 20 years of Social Security checks like the folks who don't smoke the pack a day.

Which brings up a problem: Too many smokers have been living into retirement, putting our Social Security and government health care systems at risk. Consequently, concerned people, who, fortunately, outnumber devil-may-care smokers, have decided to arrange that smokers die at just the right time. That campaign is constantly being revised to achieve the right balance.

The first measure, putting scary labels on cigarette packs, was an early and ineffective attempt to take advantage of the "reverse placebo" effect. Think of it as a curse. The theory was that if smokers saw or heard awful things about tobacco often enough, it would literally make them sick.

The next measure was a modest tax increase to wrest more money from smokers while they are with us (the familiar "Tax 'em if you got 'em") and use part of it to fund the search for even more effective curses. The bulk of smokers' taxes went to more government, always a good thing.

When those measures proved to be inadequate, smokers, known to be prone to respiratory illnesses, were tossed out of even private businesses into the wind and snow. Unfortunately, that effort, too, failed to significantly reduce the number of smokers reaching retirement.

The latest measures include new, scarier televised curses and massive new taxes. Since most smokers are addicted and are generally lower on the economic ladder, they'll pay the taxes and take the money out of the family budget with the result that smokers (and, collaterally, their kids) will have poorer diets. With any luck, this should do the trick. The average smoker should drop dead right at 62 after paying the maximum amount of tobacco and Social Security taxes and collecting next to nothing. Our Social Security system will be secure, at least until we concerned folks are outta here, and we'll leave behind even more government for the enjoyment and edification of our grandkids and their kids and their kids.

Paul Wescott


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