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.