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Sir - This article rightly points out that smoking has serious social
costs, far outweighing those of illicit drugs, which however attract more
public attention. The social costs considered include health care
expenditure, loss of life, loss of health, the ill-effects of passive
smoking, absenteeism, ambulance use, fires, crime, and littering.
No physician would dispute that these costs are deplorable, but if we
examine smoking and alcohol abuse from the viewpoint of an economist, we
find that the smoker and the heavy drinker actually benefit the economy.
First, they pay a very great deal more tax than nonsmokers and
nondrinkers. Second, their survival is shorter; they do not collect their
pensions for periods of many years, and sometimes not at all. Their final
illnesses - for example lung cancer or myocardial infarction - frequently
are of short duration and thus inexpensive. They seldom require long-term
institutional care at the end of life.
By contrast, the nonsmoking teetotaller contributes no excise taxes
to the state, and may draw his or her pension for 20 or more years,
creating economic problems for future generations. The longevity
associated with their healthy lifestyle may lead to a requirement for
costly long-term care that places a huge burden on the state. Of course
smoking is a social and medical evil, but we should not deceive ourselves
that its disappearance would save money.