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This is something I have thought for a long time, but have not got around to writing about or even checking whether the stats back it up, but it seems pretty reasonable.

First of all, in the name of full disclosure, I am a non-smoker who is ostensibly anti-smoking. My parents and my sisters used to smoke for a very long time and I was surrounded by it as a youngster. I guess this worked in an opposite way that it does for many in making me not feel a need to smoke, a social or emotional desire to break the rules for a kid and what have you.

That said, I am beginning to think from a broader, societal point of view.

Many people often claim that smoking is a big drain on the NHS, and this may be so, but only from a very prima facie, uncritical point of view. Smoking is a cash cow for the government. Every year, in the budget, they push up tax on cigarettes, claiming that they are trying to disincentivise smoking. The truth, though, is far from this since if they really wanted to stop people smoking, they would prohibit it outright, or would put up the tax so much as to make it prohibitive.

But no, they put up the tax just enough so that if they do lose some income from smokers giving up due to the price rise, they will recover more than this deficit with increased tax revenues on the majority of people who maintain their smoking habit.

The UK raised £12 billion in tax revenue – £9.5 billion in excise duty plus £2.5 billion of VAT – from the sale of tobacco products in 2016. Yet it only costs the NHS somewhere between £2 and £6 billion. That’s a massive difference.

But this isn’t my main point. It saves, I posit, a further huge amount to the welfare state.

Lung cancer has high mortality rates: if you get it, your survival chances aren’t great. It is most common in 70-74 year-olds. Life expectancy in the UK is about 81 years. This is all beyond retirement age, and so people dying in their early 70s rather than early eighties is saving the welfare state in pension, and saving the NHS in running costs for general illnesses and other costs for these people over that decade. Moreover, the likelihood of dying from another type of cancer is high (and those who don’t smoke will die of something anyway). So the notion that smoking costs the NHS an amount is probably simplistic in that it needs to subtract the cost of whatever alternative death would be suffered by the would-be smoker.

In short, smoking not only generates huge income for the government in taxes, but it saves (our) government huge amounts by point of fact it shortens (often retired) people’s lives and saves in pension costs and further NHS costs (and any other governmental costs of retired people).

What I am saying, as a lifelong nonsmoker and “anti-smoker” is that smoking is great for our nation and I should really be a pro-smoker.



[EDIT: Obviously, this can be a difficult emotional subject given the various people many of us will know or have known connected to this piece. However, I am trying to be strictly rational to think about the matter as a sort of thought experiment.]

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...