Smoking, Death and Taxes – a homage to Benjamin Franklin

As Benjamin Franklin put it in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, in 1789, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” And when it comes to smoking, he could not have put it any more succinctly.

In the UK, the average packet of cigarettes carries duty and taxation of around £4 (around $7) per pack so if you are a smoker, you can be guaranteed the taxes part of the statement. In real terms that is over £1,460 ($2,500) per year – the equivalent of about 8.5 pence (15 cents) extra in the pound on the basic rate income tax for an average earner!

As for the death part of the statement, we know that death is inevitable but the average smoker’s life is shortened by 8 years according to widely accepted research. But there is a sting in this statistic that most people ignore. Half of all smokers are expected to die prematurely as a result of their smoking. From this key fact we can draw the conclusion that half of all smokers will not die prematurely from smoking. This explains the “my grandmother smoked 40 woodbines a day and lived to 98” quotes you hear at the pub or in general conversations.

What people overlook when they make these statements is that of the half that die early as a result of smoking, the average demise is brought forward by eight years for the whole smoking population. This actually means that if you get caught up in the half that is going to die prematurely, you are going to die about 16 years earlier than normal.

In the case of the UK, the average life expectancy of a man is 76 years for a man and 81 years for a woman. These statistics include the premature deaths of smokers – so actually, if you don’t smoke, your life expectancy should be a few years more than this. If you do smoke, it may be a few years more than you think but it falls back 16 years from that of a non-smoker if you end up in the ‘wrong half’!

In the case of men, if the average life expectancy is 76 years and you are unfortunate enough to die 16 years early as an ‘average’ smoker, you will be 5 years short of your retirement age. How does that make you feel? All the work, all the pension contributions and then what – die of a heart attack or a lingering painful death as a result of cancer or a dribbling, mumbling wreck from stroke or the worst of all, a static, breathless existence in a chair incapable of doing anything because of emphysema?

If you think this is a little morbid, why not do some research on famous smokers or people in the public eye who have died from smoking related illnesses? You will be amazed at the number of smokers who die in their fifties and sixties. Most smokers are in denial that they will get cancer or heart disease but you could well be dying in your 50s or 60s. There are well documented cases on the internet of smokers dying in their 20s and 30s as a result of thioer habit.

Extensive research has categorically concluded that smoking causes a plethora of diseases. At the last count in my research, I had identified over 60 diseases, both fatal and non-fatal that can be directly linked to the consumption of cigarettes or other tobacco products.

I suggest that whilst there is nothing you can do about the inevitability of taxes, nor the inevitability of death, there is a choice for smokers to pay less tax and get a little more time in before death. Quitting is never easy if you are in denial and you believe you want to smoke, but there are methods available to overcome your emotional attachment to cigarettes. Today is always a good day to start stopping smoking.

How to be a happy non-smoker

Smoking has got to be one of the worst afflictions man has brought upon himself. As Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland put it, “A cigarette is the only consumer product which when used as directed kills its consumer.” Of course, in the old days people didn’t even know that there was a connection between smoking and becoming ill not only through cancer, but also via a whole host of other diseases.

The four big killers from cigarette smoking are lung cancer, heart attack, stroke and Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease or COPD. The lung cancer is not the only form of cancer that smokers put themselves at markedly higher risk of either.

Smokers represent 90% of all male lung cancer sufferers and 80% of all women lung cancer sufferers, of whom, 90% die within 5 years of diagnosis. Smoking also increases the risk of other cancers. Amongst the plethora of other diseases, smoking enhances the risk of cervical cancer, cancers of the mouth, lip and throat, cancer of the pancreas, bladder cancer, cancer of the kidney, stomach cancer, liver cancer and leukaemia.

Of course smokers are made totally aware of the illnesses that they risk as a result of their habit. Health warnings are emblazoned everywhere. Governments and health organisations around the world continue to berate smokers with warnings and images of the diseases they are risking as a result of smoking. The reason they argue being that smokers are intelligent and can make choices when given the appropriate evidence. As an ex-smoker (and a happy one at that), I disagree.

The problem with their argument is that these health organisations and governments think that smokers smoke out of choice. This is blatantly not so. To understand the flaw in this idea I suggest we do a little mental experiment:

Let us imagine we take a smoker and a non-smoker as our subjects. We then starve the subjects for 24 hours but give them water so they will not die. We then offer them some food of their individual choice, whether it be soup or stew or curry or cake, they get to choose. Then let us poison this food in front of each subject and tell the subject we are poisoning his or her food. Stick with me here… both of our subjects are famished and both know that their favourite food in front of them is laced with poison and will kill them if they eat it.

Which one is more likely to go ahead and eat the poisoned food, the smoker or the non-smoker?

Neither of them of course, but now ask yourself this question;

“Which one of them is no longer hungry because the food is poisoned?”

Do you see the problem? Just because something may be bad for you and you know that, does not necessarily mean you will not want it. Smoking is not a matter of choice, just as eating isn’t. Smoking to a smoker is a means of obtaining nicotine and the craving for that nicotine is going to be no less when you tell him or her that it’s delivered by a health destroying, cancer instigating, stroke inducing, emphysema causing, heart attack inducing cigarette.

Nicotine delivery is most effective when taken as smoke from cigarettes, rolling or pipe tobacco. It gets delivered fast to the bloodstream and fast to the brain where it is wanted. Nicotine patches, gums, sprays and inhalators all deliver nicotine but it takes several minutes for the delivery. Smoking takes less than 10 seconds to get the nicotine to the brain and that is important because the cravings are short lived but intense, hence smokers prefer to smoke than have a patch dribbling them a little of what they are addicted to.

Once you can understand that nicotine addiction is the problem and you understand that you must overcome that addiction, you build on your chances of becoming a happy non-smoker.

Part of the problem with the government sponsored and pharmaceutical company led solutions to smoking are that they re-enforce the belief that quitting smoking is difficult and they try to solve what they see as a problem of tobacco smoke by giving the addict the drug in a different form such as NRT.

For years now, NRT has been preached as the saviour of smokers around the world, just as methadone has been preached as the solution to heroin addiction. Neither are terribly effective at achieving the goal of bringing people back to normality; i.e. being nicotine or heroin free. Governments and health organisations need to think more about the addiction smokers have to cigarettes because of the nicotine than brow-beating them with bad news about the health effects.

Arguably 80% of smokers are motivated to quit smoking, but motive does not necessarily provide means and opportunity. If smoking is to be overcome, a smoker must not just “not want to smoke”, they must believe that they have no desire to smoke. Only once a smoker can lose the desire for cigarettes, can they become happy non-smokers. Understanding how they can reach the point of not desiring a cigarette is key in removing the perennial problem of

Does the government really want you to quit smoking?

The price of whiskey has stayed pretty much the same for the last 10 years in the United Kingdom. Every year the duty on cigarettes goes up by 10-20 pence because of the Government’s policy of taxing smokers out of smoking. The incumbent Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, likes to drink whiskey but he doesn’t smoke. You could argue that this is why whiskey is ‘missed’ from the rises (but other spirits are not) whereas cigarette duty is increased every year – but the policy simply isn’t working.

As a former smoker, I recall saying I would give up smoking once they reached £1 per pack. (Yes it was a very long time ago!) I also recall the same mantra at £2, £3, £4 and £4.50 but still I never quit. I finally quit when they reached £5 but it wasn’t because of the price. The reason I chose to quit smoking was because I wanted to be around for my newborn daughter if she needed me as she was growing up. That’s right, I quit smoking for her should she need me, not so I could watch her grow up. I thought it made more sense – after all she needs someone to provide food, clothing, love and affection and guidance for her. I already have all that. But what is significant about me choosing to quit for her and not for me you ask?

It comes back to Gordon’s duty on cigarettes again. I could take the 10-20 pence rises every year. They were niggling but over the course of a year it was only £55 or just over a pound a week. It is more irritating than off-putting to spend £1 extra per week. What’s more, if you are addicted to a drug like nicotine, a quid a week is not an incentive for you to quit getting your fix.

Think of that the other way round and it makes perfect sense. If the Government offered smokers £1 a week to quit smoking, would anybody actually take them up on the offer? No of course not. And that is the key to understanding the motivation of the Government’s tax policy on cigarettes.

We have all heard the “soothing yet authoritative” words of the chancellor saying that he will raise the duty on cigarettes by x many pence in order to continue the policy of dissuading smokers from smoking.

Whilst this is an effective way of preventing children from taking up smoking – cigarettes are unaffordable to the – it is not an effective method of getting adult smokers to quit. Adult smokers have adequate disposable income, children rarely do.

The problem is, most people don’t think. For 2003/4, the British Government took over £8,0930,000,000 in tobacco taxation through duties and tax but only spent £71,000,000 on smoking cessation and public smoking education programs.

On the one hand, they are saying we should stop and expect us to believe that through their funding of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and Group Therapy sessions through the NHS. They are reluctant to use Zyban with NRT as a combined treatment because it is both more effective and more expensive.

The last thing the Government wants its highly taxed smokers to do is quit smoking. They provide over 1% of the Government’s revenues every year (excluding other VAT and income tax receipts that smokers pay anyway) and then have the courtesy to be mostly dead by the age when pension time comes up.

What’s more, the final months of a smoker’s life are no more expensive than other non-smokers. Sure they draw on the health service, but many of them just drop dead as a result of stroke or heart attack. The ones that get cancer are usually diagnosed so late they die within the year. The only relatively expensive smokers are the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseased ones – the ones with emphysema and the like because they need oxygen for the remainder of their years.

Any non-smoker reading this may be crying foul right now. Not so I say. Non-smokers tend to die lingering deaths eating up resources of the NHS as do smokers but non-smokers have generally had a fair few years of pension and then nursing home care so that argument doesn’t wash and what’s more, the smokers paid extra anyway through higher taxes on their cigarettes.

Smokers are the best kinds of citizens for Government because they pay over the odds throughout their lives and then die so quickly they will never get anything back from the system. That is why I believe the Government doesn’t really want you to quit smoking.

How can I quit smoking?

For some time, I have been studying why some people who choose to quit smoking or lose weight succeed and why some of them don’t. To be fair, most people who want to quit smoking and then go on to make an attempt actually fail. Most people who chose to diet lose some weight then put it back on. But why is this?

In this day and age, society is always looking for a miracle cure. Two major problems in western society are smoking and obesity and so there are lots of miracle cures being peddled for these topics. Smoking takes well over a million lives a year just in North America and Europe. Obesity, whilst less of a killer is on the rise as western diets and lifestyles continue to over-provide calories whilst under-delivering exercise.

If we take dieting as a principle example, we can see new diets and health plans being launched every year. Some of these prove to be huge commercial successes whilst others do not. The commercial successes go exponential once the media get a hold of them (which is nice for whoever came up with the idea). A perfect example of this is the Atkin’s diet. But why is it that we always seem to move on to another diet or another cure pretty soon afterwards?

The reason we seem to find that one solution only works for a while and we have to move on to the next is because there is a constant stream of people wanting these cures. But of these people, many if not most of them have not made the actual decision to do what they want to do. What they have done is make a decision that they would like to have something or some outcome.

Imagine these people as the water in a lake with a stream flowing in at the top and a stream flowing out at the bottom. The people flowing in at the top have made the decision that they would like to change something such as their smoking or their weight. The people in the lake have not achieved what they want yet and then the ones leaving have succeeded.

From time to time, a solution is presented and it helps many people get out of the lake. That is a wave running from the top to the bottom of the lake and it lets more water out than is coming in. However, it is just a wave and with time the lake fills up again.

As an ex-smoker and a former fatty (arguably!), I have found what I believe to be the solution to the problem. It is all to do with the decision. We may decide that we would like to quit smoking or that we would like to lose weight, but have we decided to commit to doing it? Most people when they quit smoking decide to try to quit. Most people when they choose to go on a diet decide to try and lose x many pounds. The problem is, as Yoda out of “Star Wars” would say; “Do, or do not, there is no try.”

To quit smoking, I had to decide that I was no longer going to kill myself. Moreover, I was not going to pay a tobacco company for the pleasure of killing me either, nor the government! It was the same with weight loss. You have to commit to undertaking a diet and then permanently changing the way you are. You cannot diet until you reach you chosen weight, then start eating cakes and pies as your staple diet. You must choose to change from being a smoker to a non-smoker and from living on an inappropriate diet to an appropriate diet. There isn’t much difference between the two situations – it is about deciding to do something rather than deciding to try and do something.