smoking — it’s awesome!

Here’s a thoughtful post on the lifetime costs of smoking from The Incidental Economist. After some graphs showing public and private costs of smoking, the author ruminates on the difficulties of true cost-benefit analysis. E.g.,

Our estimates of the private cost of smoking suggest that individuals must receive at least $141,181 worth of benefit from smoking over the course of their life (from age 24 until death or they stop smoking) if smoking is a rational decision.

But on the other hand,

It is worth remembering that there are many activities that are commonly engaged in that are viewed as unwise by some…. [A]n average smoker smoking 400 packs per year gives up around 800 hours of future life expectancy by doing so. By comparison, between one-sixth and one-third of adults watch at least 2 hours of television per day. Leaving aside multi-tasking, and making the assumption that watching television is non-productive, this time could be understood as ‘lost’ in much the same way life span is lost to smoking. Television watchers may say they enjoy watching TV, but so too will smokers likely say they enjoy smoking. The point is, any activity that consumes around 2 hours per day in a manner that is judged to be ‘wasted’ or ‘lost’ could be estimated to have a private cost similar to that of smoking.

Indeed. I took up smoking (pipe tobacco) for a brief period in my early 30s. I did it in part to be perverse and mock death during my deployment to Iraq, and in part to have a reliable habit to comfort myself with while there. I continued to smoke every now and then after my return, until my son was born and I decided to give it up for good, since sleeping in a room with a smoker is linked to SIDS.

But I miss it. Smoking is fun. Pipe smoking in particular involves a whole little ritual (people who roll their own cigarettes have, I think, a similar fondness for ceremony), and then a relaxing period of several minutes in which one sits outside, chats with friends, contemplates the stars. Smoking is an excuse for doing nothing, deliberately. If you feel a need to waste time, to slip into an idle state for a while, smoking is both faster than TV and more pleasurable than all but the best programming. And the anti-smoking movement, which has forced smokers outdoors, has in a strange way enforced both the sociable aspect of smoking (smokers tend to cluster around a habitual place) and the potential for a little time away from the office or the living room. Smoking breaks up the day, takes us out into the air for a minute or two, encourages idle and detached conversation. Smoking is a kind of return to sanity.

Also, it gets you high, in a slightly nauseating way. So there’s that.

Another health-related item: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution posted an interesting story recently about hospital markups in the Atlanta metro area. There’s nothing terribly new here, of course, but the point is worth repeating: our hodge-podge, catch-as-catch-can system of health coverage both brutally punishes those who don’t have health insurance (because they’re the ones who have to pay the full markup) and drives up prices all around, even for the insured (by creating a higher customary price).

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