Tobacco and Poverty

by Caleb Reading

The contribution of tobacco to death and disease is well documented. Less attention is given to the ways in which tobacco increases poverty.

When I was in highschool, several of my friends and classmates spent about $35 a month (minimum) each on brand-name cigarettes.*

When one of them would complain (cigarette in mouth) about being broke, I sometimes couldn’t resist asking “How much those cigarettes cost?” Now, I usually kept my mouth shut about it, because it wasn’t doing any damn good besides making them mad at me. They had it in their head that “it’s just a couple dollars” and they didn’t want to see being broke as being someone other than their parents’ fault. They were young, so I let it slide. But if any of these former classmates are still crying poverty at a high-school reunion, I’m going to have a hard time not saying, “So, you still smoke? . . .”

Yeah Yeah, I’m a jerk. But it’s the damn truth: if they didn’t spend money on crap, they’d have more money. It’s so damn obvious I don’t know why they keep making the same mistakes anyway.

* $35 per month at 8% interest, 3% inflation, and 20% tax rate (most of my classmates work in the factory, so 20% is about right) ends up compounding into the following inflation-adjusted amounts:

10 years — $4,969
20 years — $11,878
30 years — $21,484
40 years — $34,841
50 years — $53,414

This is assuming cigarettes don’t raise more than 3% in price per year and does not even take into account higher insurance rates for smokers and higher healthcare costs.