“The government believe it is right that tobacco manufacturers and importers make a greater contribution to the societal costs of smoking”

HM Treasury Tobacco Levy consultation document, December 2014

As well as the health impact on non-smokers of smokers, it is argued that the “true” costs to society (and hence non-smokers) are greater than the income in respect of tax and duty. It is argued that while tax and duty raised from English smokers (78% of the total take from UK smokers) was around £10bn, the “true” cost of smoking in England was £13.9bn. Smoking therefore “imposes a cost to society”.

The derivation of annual income is straightforward enough but the “cost” side of the equation is not. To derive the costs to society there is the inclusion of estimated, tangible costs to the Health Service but to this are added various imputed costs including, for example, the cost of “smoking breaks”. This conflates two ideas; firstly that smoking breaks are a cost to society as a whole whereas these are quite clearly costs to individual employers; and that non-smokers never deviate from their work. As we all know well we can all find ways to waste time at work and if we were to consider the “cost to society” of social media, internet shopping and the time spent complaining about colleagues who do not share our Stakhanovite work ethic then the costs of smoking breaks taken by a minority of employees quite clearly is shown to be irrelevant.

If we were to be completely cold hearted in this analysis we should compare lifetime income generated from a smoker with the lifetime costs which will include both healthcare costs but also pensions. As we have described already, there is a modest reduction in life expectancy for smokers and hence a “saving” relative to non-smokers from pension payments. In the case of lung cancer we demonstrated that diagnosis tends to come quite late in life, but survival rates are low and this is generally true of “smoking-related” illnesses that expiry tends to follow quickly from diagnosis. This compares with “healthy” non-smokers (especially the skinny ones) where a long period of old age will be associated with material costs of treating the ailments which come with a long life and require significant levels of care.