The high cost of smoking

If the threat of cancer can't persuade you to quit smoking, maybe the prospect of poverty will.

The financial consequences of lighting up stretch far beyond the cost of a pack of cigarettes. Smokers pay more for insurance. They lose money on the resale value of their cars and homes. They spend extra on dry cleaning and teeth cleaning. Long term, they earn less and receive less in pension and Social Security benefits.

Indeed, being a smoker can not only mean you don't get hired — you can get fired, too. After announcing it would no longer employ smokers, Weyco, a medical-benefits administrator in Michigan, fired four employees who refused to submit to a breath test. It began testing the spouses of its employees, too, levying an $80-per-month surcharge on those who don't test clean.

Overall, 5% of employers prefer to hire nonsmokers, according to the most recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, and 1% do not hire smokers. A few examples:

  • Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan stopped hiring smokers for full-time positions at both its Michigan campuses.

  • Alaska Airlines, based in Washington state, requires a nicotine test before hiring people.

  • The Tacoma-Pierce County (Wash.) Health Department has applicants sign an "affidavit of nontobacco use."

  • Union Pacific won't hire smokers.

That same poll found that 5% of companies charge smokers more for health-care premiums. The costs don't stop with your paycheck. Figures from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids assert that smokers cost the economy $97.6 billion a year in lost productivity.

That's based on the number of working years lost because of premature death. (The Bureau of National Affairs says 95% of companies banning smoking report no financial savings, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce finds no connection between smoking and absenteeism.)

An additional $96.7 billion is spent on public and private health care combined, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and each American household spends $630 a year in federal and state taxes due to smoking.


Personal financial impact

The cost of a pack of cigarettes averages around $4.50 to $5, including taxes, depending on where you live. Using the lower number, a pack-a-day smoker burns through about $31.50 per week, or $1,638 per year. That's a fat house payment or a nice vacation with the family. A 40-year-old who quits smoking and puts the savings into a 401(k) earning 9% a year would have nearly $250,000 by age 70.

But only you know exactly how much you pay and how often. Plug your yearly tally into our Savings Calculator and see what it'll cost you over the coming decades.

The one place many smokers feel free and comfortable to light up is in their car. Without consistent and thorough cleanings, however, a car that is smoked in will soon start to resemble an ashtray on wheels. The interior inevitably smells like smoke, and stray ashes and butts can burn holes in the upholstery and floor mats.

None of these things has much financial impact until you try to sell the car. Figure a minimum of $150 for a good cleaning with an extractor.

On a trade-in, dealers can easily knock off more than $1,000 on higher-end vehicles. Terry Cooper, a car dealer with seven new- and used-car stores, says he took a 1999 Porsche 911 Cabriolet in on trade for $37,000. That sounds OK, but the owner could have fetched $40,000 for it had he not "smoked out" the car's interior.

The criteria that apply to cars apply to homes as well, only on a bigger scale.

Smokers' houses often require all new paint and/or wall treatments, as well as professional drapery and carpet cleaning. According to Contractors.com, priming and painting an average-size living room, dining room and two bedrooms would cost more than $2,000. The Carpet Buying Handbook puts the average cleaning cost per square foot at 28 cents, and the average home has 1,000 square feet of carpet. That's $280. Add $55 to clean a typical sofa and $25 for a chair, says Diversified Carpet in San Diego.

Walt Molony with the National Association of Realtors says that "certainly the smell of cigarettes can be a turnoff to potential buyers."

Insurers weigh in, and they're not happy

We pulled some online quotes on 20-year term life insurance (a $500,000 policy) for a healthy 44-year-old male through BudgetLife.com. The lowest quote for a nonsmoker was $1,140 in premiums per year; for someone smoking a pack a day, the lowest price more than doubled to $2,571 per year.

The difference in health insurance isn't as dramatic. According to eHealthInsurance.com, the monthly premium for a policy from Regence Blue Shield with a $1,500 deductible for a 44-year-old male nonsmoker is $292. The same policy for a smoker is $338 per month, or $552 more a year.

A few state governments also charge their employees extra for health insurance if they smoke, and others are gradually joining the trend.

According to the ACLU, a majority of states do not have a state law preventing employers from discriminating against potential and current employees based on nonwork activities. Thirty-one states do have laws that protect smokers, including Colorado and North Dakota, which ban discrimination based on any form of legal, off-duty behavior.

When shopping for homeowners insurance, nonsmokers can generally expect to receive a minimum 10% discount. The insurer's point of view: Smokers burn down houses.

The most common homeowners insurance policies range from approximately $457 to $1,372 per year, depending on the home's location. With the discount, a nonsmoker would realize savings of at least $45, but most likely more.

Few people set out to cut their life short, but smokers greatly increase their chances of dying sooner than nonsmokers. In his book "The Price of Smoking," Frank Sloan, the director of the Center for Health Policy, Law and Management at Duke University in Durham, N.C., details the financial impact of a shorter life span on retirement benefits.

"Smokers, due to higher mortality rates, obtained lower lifetime benefits compared to never smokers, even after accounting for their smoking-related lower lifetime contributions," the research says.

Sloan and his colleagues found that the effects of smoking on lifetime Social Security benefits were $1,519 for 24-year-old female smokers and $6,549 for 24-year-old male smokers. This is money paid into Social Security but never collected, because the beneficiary died prematurely of a smoking-related illness.

"You could be paying into Social Security year after year, and if you die at 66 because you're a smoker, it's money down the drain," says Sloan.


Keeping up appearances

Numerous studies find that smokers earn anywhere from 4% to 11% less than nonsmokers. It's not just a loss of productivity to smoke breaks and poorer health that takes a financial toll, researchers theorize; smokers are perceived to be less attractive and successful as well.

Bad breath, yellow teeth and smelly clothes are just a few of the personal side effects of smoking, and all cost money to correct.

An extra pack of mints or gum a week adds up to about $50 per year. Need your teeth whitened once a year? Brite Smile, which has offices across the country, sells its service for $400 to $600. Most professional-grade teeth whitening products retail for a minimum of $200.

Dry-cleaning bills are likely to be higher also. Clean that suit one extra time a month at a cost of $12, and there goes an additional $144 every year.




Related Links:

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This article originally appeared in MSN Money on September 3, 2008