Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Anti-Smoking Campaign

In most countries in the western world there has been a strong anti-smoking campaign for a generation, in Canada we have often lead the world with new and more innovative restrictions on smoking. The campaign seems to have lead to lower smoking rates, but are there other benefits? Are there unintended consequences to us from this campaign to end smoking?

Are the costs to our health care system lower because there are fewer smoking related illnesses? It seems that there would be no long term savings according to this paper in 1997. This paper showed that if all of the smokers quit in the short term there is a reduction in costs to the health care system, but after 15 years the costs would be higher than before the smokers quit. It seems that getting people not to smoke is costing us money.

Not smoking increases a persons lifespan. This is good for the individuals, but as a society the non smoker costs more to support in old age. A pack a day smoker will die roughly ten years before a non smoker. Those ten years are all the years in which the person is a net cost to society through pension payments. The average male smoker will die within a couple of years of mandatory retirement, the non smoker will live to about 79.

I am not a smoker and hate smoking. I despise the smell. At the same time I can see that the very vigorous campaign to make smoking difficult to do has hidden costs for all of us in society. Our push to get rid of smoking is slowly but surely increasing the costs of our medical system and it is making our pension system less sustainable. We have spent all this money to try stop smoking with the unintended consequence of increasing the cost of government.

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