Rich People Don’t Smoke – The Simple Socioeconomics of Tobacco Consumption

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health. It blackens your lungs, makes you smell like ashes to non-smokers, and people often depend on them to regulate or mitigate their ever-volatile moods. We know that stress is bad for one’s health, but saying “I need a cigarette, I’m so stressed” is about as helpful as saying “I’m feeling a bit under the weather, pass me that poison.” But this article isn’t about the more obvious medical arguments against smoking. My appeal for smokers to quit is simple: If you stop smoking, you’ll realize that you’re rich.

The Cost of Smoking

Having an addiction like smoking must be awful. For one thing, you have snobs like me, who have very little sympathy for smokers’ complaints. Basically every friend I ever had who was a smoker complained about money at some point. There’s the obvious solution, yet I always seem to fail to persuade them on it. When the addiction becomes too powerful, and the habit becomes so natural, the alternative is unthinkable. I mean this literally – the individual can scarcely conceive of a life without smoking. For those whose smoking springs like a reflex, it becomes such a part of them that they don’t think anything of it; and if they don’t even think about it, then they’re not going to change it.

So I’m going to take the role of the brutal and unforgiving non-smoker: I don’t think you have the right to complain about money if you are wasting yours on smoking. Some people call lottery tickets a“tax on stupidity,” but I’m a little surprised that smoking doesn’t have a similar image. It’s a shame that movies and advertisements have turned smoking into something that “looks cool,” because it’s ultimately a method to make you die earlier. And really, if you wanted to kill yourself that slowly, there are plenty more productive ways to do so than by smoking. For example, you could work extremely long hours and avoid getting enough sleep. Doing your job for too long will make you die earlier and contribute to society!

Unless that job is to sell cigarettes to people…

Canadian parents Shawn and Jodi Peterson learnt the value of kicking the addiction firsthand, when they were able to take their kids to Disneyland with the money they had saved. If you smoke, I urge you – right now – to calculate the amount of money you spend on cigarettes. Even if you have no intention to quit, there’s no harm in learning about it. The calculations the Petersons made came to $660 per month. In other words, they spent $8,000 on cigarettes every year.

The real questions self-deluded smokers need to ask themselves are: How much money would you have to spend before you realize that it’s too much? What would make you acknowledge that debts or loans that need to be paid off are a higher priority than the hedonistic puff from a cigarette? What percentage of your income must you waste before you declare that it has gone too far? And finally, what would you like to do if you had all that extra money?

As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of cigarettes. I don’t think cigarettes should be banned, as people are free to do whatever they want; but if you’re going to do it, don’t come crying to me about it. Don’t say “I don’t have money,” when you know fully well that you do. And on the other hand, if you’re someone I care about, don’t make me come crying to you. There are only so many ways the people who care about you can express that concern. If you’re not going to listen to those who have voiced their concerns, maybe you have to learn from examples. Steve Jobs taught us, in the most salient way possible, that an early death is a waste of life. So if there’s only one thing you take away from this post, make it this: A cigarette is a waste of money.

The Status of Poor, Poor Smokers

Contrary to the title, rich people smoke as well; but what we’re finding is that smokers tend to be poor. Thomas Lampert from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute published a paper in 2010 on the data gathered from a survey of over 8,000 people. He concluded that people of low social status are more likely to be smokers, to be physically inactive, and to be obese, than people of higher status. And for women, the link was even stronger with obesity. But honestly, does this surprise anyone? Considering how much money it costs to fund this addiction, it’s no wonder that these people are poor.

And if we are to believe “time is money,” then we can see that the economy of time is affected too. For example, just think about how many work breaks are spent on smoking. How much more productively could we live our lives if the time spent on bad habits like buying cigarettes and smoking them was gone? Just think about the time it takes from your decision to smoke, until you finish that cigarette. If you smoke 10 cigarettes a day, and it takes about five minutes to smoke them, then you’re already wasting about an hour of your day. Just think of what you could do with an extra hour. I know what I would be doing. I’ll give you a hint – it involves being alone at a computer and an absurd amount of time.

…Blogging, obviously. We were all on the same page on that one, right?

The real shame with poor people getting addicted is that they need to stay away from it more than any other economic class. Proportionally speaking, it affects them much more than those in the higher classes, because they have less money to spend in the first place. In fact, poor people also have more trouble quitting smoking, so the best solution is really prevention.

A Matter of Time

For heavy smokers, cigarettes are like a hand on a clock. I can measure some of my conversations with smokers in units of cigarettes, such as one I had at a coffee shop a few weeks ago. It was five cigarettes long – we had lots to talk about. And to answer your question, yes, the topic of cigarettes came up somewhere around cigarette #4. Unfortunately I failed to persuade my friend to stop, as evidenced by the fact that there was a cigarette #5.

In fact, a lot can be said for time. Some years ago, I was listening to a conversation with two strangers on a bus. One was knitting, and she said that she only knits on the bus, which was impressive because she was halfway through an impressive scarf. Such a productive use of time means that she doesn’t have to spend her time off the bus knitting. It’s sad that I have to resort to the most basic of arguments like this, but I think smokers really need to hear it.

I must also mention that “being bored” is not an excuse for smoking. I’m quite surprised that this sometimes comes up when I talk to smokers, especially younger smokers. If you are smoking because you’re bored, you have seriously got to get yourself a more interesting hobby. No, I’m not being facetious. Learn an instrument, learn a language, take a class, etc. With devices like MP3 players, we can do these things at any time of the day, no matter where we are. And I should know, because I have done all of them. Or with devices that are increasingly becoming reminiscent to miniature televisions, watching a favourite TV show is much better for you. I personally watch a lot of documentaries, because I always like to learn new things – a very productive use of my time. Just remember not to listen too loudly.

Don’t Take My Word For It

I realize that my lack of personal experience in this area may seem hypocritical, so I want to reproduce the words of the Canadian couple described above:

“Essentially, we were spending money we really didn’t have,” says Jodi, 35. “We’d done the math before, but I think it’s like any addiction, you have to quit when you want to, not when somebody tells you to quit.” Realizing that the first thing they did every day was smoke, was “sad and gross at the same time,” Jodi says.

Shawn, a 37-year-old electrician, quit coincidentally on Valentine’s Day, because he had just worked a 24-hour emergency shift without lighting up even once and decided he might as well keep going. It took Jodi, who runs a day home, a few more weeks to get her head around quitting. They both started taking Champix, a prescribed nicotine replacement therapy, and by the time the prescription ran out, 12 weeks later, neither one was interested in smoking.

“I used to like the smell,” says Jodi, who smoked her first cigarette when she was 15. “If I walked past somebody having a cigarette, I would take a deep breath. Now, I can’t stand it.”

She admits taking a drag from a cigarette while camping with friends last summer because “I wanted to see for myself if I was really done and could handle being around people who smoked.” she explains. It caused her to throw up.

To anyone thinking of quitting, Jodi says you have to be ready and you have to really want to quit. If you’re in a relationship and you both smoke, you’ll be more successful if you both quit together, she adds.

The couple is now planning a tropical vacation together without the kids, and it looks like they have no regrets or complains about quitting.

The Bottom Line

All right, you won’t suddenly become poor by smoking; but heavy smokers burn deep holes in their wallets. However, there probably won’t be a significant trend in smoking cessation unless the culture changes the way it perceives smoking. Perhaps the image of smoking lives on today in part because it may be a status symbol – you must not be poor if you can afford all of those cigarettes. Paradoxically, though, it’s the purchasing of those cigarettes which contribute to a lack of money.

But let’s stay positive. With all the money a smoker can save from quitting, they could probably afford the medical bills and new health regiments to help rid them of the negative effects of past smoking. Or they could spend their extra wealth on vacations and luxuries, with a clean bill of health to enjoy them.

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4 Responses to Rich People Don’t Smoke – The Simple Socioeconomics of Tobacco Consumption

  1. melisa ricks says:

    Correct me if im wrong but Small or less fortunate people consume more cigarettes than richer people and once they started its hard to stop but i suggest they try quit smoking hypnosis like this video

  2. What if a person enjoys it and isn’t afraid of dying?

  3. Pingback: La devaluación de las ciencias sociales, los políticos y la importancia de estudiar lo obvio. | Psicoloquio

  4. Laura says:

    Well said

    There really is no excuse for smoking, a tax on time and money

    Unfortunately it’s an addiction which blinds people, I know many smokers who can’t see this logic and even had one friend say that he prefers smoking to evidence

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