There might be a range potential impacts of cigarettes and tobacco smoking on society.
In this guide, we discuss how smoking may impact human health & the human body, the health care system, the environment, wild life & animals, as well as the potential financial and economic impact of smoking.
(*Note – that this is a general information guide only. It is not professional advice, nor an expert health/medical opinion. See a qualified professional before making decisions on your health.)
Summary – The Full Impact Smoking May Have On Society
Financial Impact On The Individual
The financial impact of smoking on the individual might include:
– The price of cigarettes in the country, and the % of an individual’s disposable income that goes towards cigarettes. Some countries have a far higher price for cigarettes compared to others
– The opportunity cost of what money spent on cigarettes and tobacco could be spent on
– Miscellaneous smoking related costs like insurance premiums, private health care treatments, and aesthetic treatments to treat smoking related damage
– Passive smokers may also incur an individual financial cost if they inhale enough passive smoke
Financial Impact On The Healthcare System, & The Economy
There’s a direct medical cost to the healthcare system, and an economic cost for lost productivity.
Lost productivity can impact direct smokers, but may also sometimes impact second hand passive smokes too (depending on how significant the passive smoking is)
Smoking is estimated to cost the US alone hundreds of billions a year in medical care and lost productivity according to various sources
In countries like Australia, taxpayers may pay for resources that go towards bush fire control and smoking prevention too
Consider also the resources spent on lawsuits relating to tobacco companies and products every year as well – lobbying, regulations, court costs, and so on – these are resources they may have an opportunity cost to be spent elsewhere. There’s also costs like campaigns, advertising, marketing, etc. to consider
Note that in this guide, we only the cost of smoking to the individual and to the healthcare system in a basic way.
We don’t look at either:
a) the economic value of smoking and the tobacco industry (growing tobacco, manufacture, selling, etc) to an economy. Some countries like China grow far more tobacco than others.
Or b) whether smoking and tobacco is a net economic gain or loss.
In the guide below, we identify a resource by tobaccocontrol.bmj.com which might dive into the true economic net gain/loss, and discuss some points not outlined here.
Reducing The Financial Cost For Individuals, The Healthcare System, & The Economy
Some sources indicate that 70% of a smokers’ excess medical care costs could be prevented by quitting
Other sources say that a 10% relative reduction in smoking prevalence across a society wide scale might result in billions of dollars of health care expenditure savings
It would be interesting to see what the data says about how reduction in smoking prevalence might lead to productivity savings too
Strict control policies, increasing taxes, and restricting tobacco industry promotion can all help reduce smoking prevalence on a society wide scale
Some of the countries with the strictest control policies might have some of the lowest smoking prevalence rates
There can be challenges to enacting solutions to cut smoking prevalence though – tobacco industry lobbying, legal challenges, and campaigns can all pose challenges
Impact On Human Health
Smoking might be one of the leading contributing factors to preventable deaths in some countries like the US and UK, and might contribute to a range of illnesses, health conditions and diseases.
We outline sources that list more information on the potential human health impact in the guide below.
As a summary though, some sources indicate that one in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease, and, the mortality rate for smokers is three times that of people who never smoked.
Smoking has the ability to affect every organ in the body, with the heart, lungs, and blood vessels being commonly affected parts of the body
Cancer might be a common health problem that smoking might contribute to, along with heart disease
The timespan over which smoking related health effects might develop is worth noting – the effects of smoking might not show until years after the smoker has started smoking in some instances
Reducing The Impact On Human Health
Quitting smoking may in some instances reverse some of the health related effects smoking
Impact On The Human Body
In addition to the potential human health impact of smoking and cigarettes, there can be other functional and aesthetic effects on the human body.
Mood and emotional change, an undesirable smell of smoke, discoloration of teeth, and premature ageing are all examples.
There’s also secondary issues a smoker might experience e.g. development of smokers cough might lead to a decreased capacity to be able to exercise, play sport or participate in any aerobic fitness related activity.
More are listed in the guide below.
Impact On The Environment
Smoking and cigarette butts can contribute to a range of environmental issues, and different types of pollution and contamination
We list these potential issues and potential negative environmental effects in the guide below
As a summary though:
– Contamination can be an issue when butts are littered and there’s the leaching of an array of chemicals found inside butts
– Cigarette butts and smoking can contribute to various types of pollution, such as water pollution, land and soil pollution, air pollution (which emits particulate matter, and is said by some reports to be stronger than car exhaust fumes) and more
– Cigarette butts that aren’t butted out properly can in rare instances lead to fires, and lead to the burning of trees, and bushland
– The growing of tobacco may require the clearing of land – which can contribute to deforestation. This growing process also uses resources. There may also be an impact on a changing climate caused from land clearing and change in land use
Impact On Wildlife & Animals
Both wildlife and pets can be impacted by cigarettes and smoking
Wildlife can experience damage to and contamination of habitats (from pollution, but also land clearing to grow tobacco), and can ingest butts
Pets can ingest butts, and can experience second and third hand passive smoking from an owner that smokes, which can affect lungs and the respiratory system
Trends On Smoking Over Time
Various stats indicate that the total % of the population smoking in the US and the smoking prevalence rate in the US have decreased over time, but, smoking is still a leading contributing factor when assessing the total number of preventable deaths
Specific groups of people in the US population might have far higher smoking rates than the total population average rate.
Financial Impact Smoking Might Have On The Individual
There’s a cost to the individual’s personal finances, including buying cigarettes
Some countries have far more expensive cigarettes than others, and cigarettes can make up a higher % of someone’s disposable income in some countries compared to others
There’s also opportunity cost of what this money could be spent on instead
There’s also other costs like costs for the individual such as insurance premiums, and treatments for aesthetic reasons such as teeth whitening if a person’s teeth discolor from smoking
It’s also possible a regular passive smoker may incur some of these costs if the passive smoking is significant enough (such as living with a smoker)
Cost Of Cigarettes In Different Countries
Smoking costs the individual the price of cigarettes upfront, and this has to be weighed against how much this cuts into an individual’s disposable income
In some countries, cigarettes are far more expensive than others
Places like Australia, Norway and New Zealand have some of the highest cigarette packet prices in the world, whereas the US is around half to two thirds of the price of those countries.
… [in New Zealand] someone smoking a pack a day spends about $207 a week on cigarettes, which is over $10,800 each year (smokefree.org.nz)
[In the United States in 2018] Cigarettes have an average cost of $5.51 with the price in most states being between six and eight dollars (fairreporters.net)
You can view the average price of a packet of cigarettes in each country in the nationmaster.com resource
Financial Impact Smoking Might Have On The Healthcare System, & Economy
Below is information on the economic cost of smoking to the healthcare system, and to the economy in the US and Australia.
There’s direct medical costs and resources required for the healthcare system that go into the hundreds of billions per year.
There’s also lost productivity and missed work to consider for direct smokers, and sometimes passive second hand smokers to consider.
The tobaccocontrol.bmj.com resource we mention below is worth a read, as it addressing some of the common narratives about the true net economic gain/loss of smoking on society.
Economic Cost Of Smoking In The US – Medical Care, & Lost Productivity
Every year, smoking costs the U.S. more than $300 billion, which includes both medical care and lost productivity (wallethub.com)
The total economic cost of smoking in the US is estimated at more than $300 billion a year.
This includes nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity due to premature death and exposure to secondhand smoke.
In 2006, lost productivity due to exposure to secondhand smoke cost the country $5.6 billion (drugabuse.gov)
California pays more than $9 billion per year on tobacco-related medical costs, and another $8.5 billion per year is lost as a result of reduced work productivity due to increased employee smoking breaks, illness and death (tobaccofreeca.com)
You can also read a full US state by state breakdown of all the financial related costs of smoking in the wallethub.com resource listed. They discuss things such as:
The total cost of a smoker to the economy
The out of pocket cost a smoker pays
Financial opportunity cost (lost opportunity of investing that money instead)
Cost to the healthcare system
Income loss per smoker (due to loss of productivity, work related issues etc.)
And, other costs of smoking (lack of entitlement to certain insurances, cost of passive smoke etc.)
Offsetting Smoking Costs In The US – Taxes & Legal Settlements
To offset some of this cost, state governments collect $25.8 billion each year from tobacco taxes and legal settlements (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Economic Cost Of Smoking In Australia – Healthcare System, & Taxes
… the effects of smoking are estimated to cost [the] healthcare system … $320 million every year … smokers are also believed to be costing Australian taxpayers about $150 million a year in bush-fire control and prevention (risingtidefinancial.com.au)
The True Economic Net Loss/Gain Of Smoking On Society
There is also an interesting article you can search for online called ‘The Economics Of Tobacco: Myths & Realities, on tobaccocontrol.bmj.com, which discusses some lesser talked about economics of tobacco and smoking.
They discuss factors such as (paraphrased):
– How smokers might die younger than non smokers, so, their net burden of the health care system might be closer to that of a non smoker who lives longer and uses the health care system for more years
– Smokers pay an additional tax into the public system, but, if they don’t live as long, they aren’t collecting that benefit for as long as a non smoker – especially if the country operates on a pension system.
Smokers may also pay higher health insurance premiums
– Whether the cost of smoking is born by the individual, or the public.
If the health costs are paid by the individual, there is less of a burden on the public health care system
– The productivity loss and social loss resulting from smoking, may far outweigh the medical costs
– … net impact must be examined instead of a singular impact, and, there should be an effort to distinguish between costs incurred privately by the individual, and publicly by the system.
The issue can be nuanced and multi layered, and not just as simple as looking at a singular number for money spent
– [An example of a clear public burden of smoking might be a smoker who receives public welfare benefits due to a smoking related condition or sickness, and also uses publicly funded health care systems to treat their smoking related health conditions]
– [It might also be interesting to compare how a smoking related condition burdens the individual and the health care system, compared to say for example an obesity related condition like heart disease for example]
Other Potential Miscellaneous Economic Considerations
Anti-smoking policies and campaigns require resources and funding that have an opportunity cost
Taxes on the tobacco and smoking industries can also act as a revenue source for governments
Millions and billions of dollars are spent by tobacco companies every year on marketing, advertising and other resources
Economic considerations do not dismiss the health and mortality impact smoking may have on individuals and a society
Reducing The Cost Of Smoking For Individuals, The Healthcare System & The Economy
There are ways that the cost of smoking can potentially be reduced for the individual, and also for the healthcare system and the economy.
Policies, taxes, and restricting/regulating the tobacco industry might be potential solutions on a society wide scale.
There can be challenges to enacting solutions to cut smoking prevalence on a society wide scale though
Impact Of Quitting Smoking For An Individual’s Finances
About 70 percent of current smokers’ excess medical care costs could be prevented by quitting (drugabuse.gov)
Impact Of Cutting Smoking Prevalence On Smoking Related Costs For The Economy
Per ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: … a 10% relative reduction in smoking prevalence between a state and the national average in one year was followed by an average $6.3 billion reduction (in 2012 dollars) in health care expenditure the following year
Potential Solutions To Cutting Smoking Prevalence Society Wide
Per ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: [Consistent with findings of cutting prevalence …] the states with the most rigorous tobacco control policies had a much lower smoking prevalence and lower health care expenditures than states that did not have these policies.
From ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: Population-based tobacco control policies, increasing taxes, and restricting tobacco industry promotion of cigarettes all can reduce smoking and raise government revenue.
Read more on reducing smoking prevalence and saving healthcare dollars in the ncbi.nlm.nih.gov resource
Potential Challenges To Society Wide Solutions Aimed At Cutting Smoking Prevalence
From ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: The challenge for tobacco control advocates has been to persuade governments to enact … policies in the face of tobacco industry lobbying, legal challenges, and campaigns to manufacture doubt about the health risks of smoking and the need for tobacco control policies.
Impact Smoking Might Have On Human Health (Direct, & Secondhand Smoke)
Smoking might contribute to preventable deaths, and might contribute to a range of illnesses, health conditions and diseases.
Some more information on those two points:
Linked Deaths & Preventable Deaths
According to the NHS:
Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for nearly 80,000 deaths each year.
One in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.
Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States (cdc.gov)
Tobacco use accounts for nearly half a million deaths in the U.S. each year …
Even those around tobacco smokers aren’t safe from its harmful effects.
Since 1964, smoking-related illnesses have claimed over 20 million lives in the U.S., 2.5 million of which belonged to nonsmokers who developed diseases merely from secondhand-smoke exposure.
In the United States, the mortality rate for smokers is three times that of people who never smoked. … smoking is the most common “preventable cause of death” in the United States (healthline.com)
… the prevalence [of smoking] has declined substantially since the first US Surgeon General’s report (from 43% in 1965 to 18% today), but it remains a leading cause of preventable death in the United States, where it is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year, including nearly 42,000 deaths from secondhand smoke exposure (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Illness, Disease & Human Health Conditions
The CDC has some of the following information on smoking’s impact on human health (a summary of important points we picked out):
Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases, and reduces the health of smokers in general.
[Deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer are heavily linked to smoking]
Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer
Smokers are at greater risk for diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease)
Smoking can cause lung disease by damaging your airways and the small air sacs (alveoli) found in your lungs
Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body – if nobody smoked, one of every three cancer deaths in the United States would not happen
Read the full fact sheet on smoking at the cdc.gov resource listed
According to nhs.uk
In terms of health, smoking can specifically impact:
Circulation (poisons enter the bloodstream)
The Brain (increased risk of stroke)
The Heart (increases the risk of several heart diseases and risks)
Lungs (can impact your breathing, and increase risk of respiratory diseases)
The Stomach (stomach cancer and ulcers)
The Mouth and Throat (gum diseases and other side effects)
Skin (skin prematurely ages, and cellulite can be more prevalent)
Reproduction and Fertility (male impotence, and reduce fertility for women)
Bones (can become weak and brittle)
Tobacco use … is the leading cause of lung cancer …
… nonsmokers [can also develop] diseases … from secondhand-smoke exposure.
Amongst some of the 26 effects smoking might have on the body, healthline.com indicates these are some of the potential health issues that smoking could contribute to:
Can heighten risk of lung cancer
Can lead to higher rates of bronchitis
Can lead to heart disease
Can lead to COPD
Can lead to high cholesterol
Can increase risk of cervical cancer
Can weaken your immune system
Can lead to short term and long term fertility issues in men and women
Can lead to problems with pregnancy and newborns
Can contribute to erectile dysfunction
Can lead to other cancers
Can lead to diabetes complications
Can lead to blood clotting
Can impact on your blood e.g. risk of leukaemia
Cigarettes contain about 600 ingredients, many of which can also be found in cigars and hookahs.
When these ingredients burn, they generate more than 7,000 chemicals … Many of those chemicals are poisonous and at least 69 of them are linked to cancer.
While the effects of smoking may not be immediate, the complications and damage can last for years.
Reducing The Impact Of Smoking On Human Health
The good news is that quitting smoking can reverse many effects (healthline.com)
Quitting smoking reduces several health risks short term and long term (cdc.gov)
Impact Smoking Might Have On The Human Body
In addition to the potential human health impact of smoking and cigarettes, there can be other functional and aesthetic effects on the human body.
healthline.com indicates there are 26 effects of smoking on the body, and some of the aesthetic and functional effects might include (paraphrased and summarised):
Can change your mood
Can make you anxious or irritable
Can lead to early menopause
Can lead to poor vision
Can give you smelly hair
Can give you a dull sense of smell or taste
Can change the color of your teeth (to a brown or yellow)
Can cause blood vessels to constrict
Can lead to ‘smokers cough’ – which is a persistent coughing
Can lead to loss of appetite
Can give you yellow fingers
Can lead to wrinkly skin and premature aging
Impact Smoking Might Have On The Environment
– Cigarette butts can be litter
– Cigarette butts can lead chemicals into the environment, and contaminate water and other environments and resources
– The burning of cigarettes can contribute to air pollution
– In rare instances, cigarette butts that aren’t butter out properly can lead to fires
– The growing of tobacco can have an environmental impact
Cigarette Butts As Litter
Smoking, Cigarettes, & Environmental Pollution & Contamination
Cigarette butts contain chemicals that when the butt is disposed of, these chemicals can contaminate water, soil and animal habitats (tobaccofreeca.com)
[Studies find] chemicals such as cadmium, arsenic, nicotine, several heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in butts
[These chemicals can leach out into the environment when butts are disposed of properly]
Smoking also causes air pollution (lowering air quality):
The air pollution emitted by cigarettes is 10 times greater than diesel car exhaust …
… Environmental tobacco smoke produces fine particulate matter, which is the most dangerous element of air pollution for health
Cigarette Butts & Accidental Fires
Cigarettes that aren’t butted out properly can in some rarer cases cause fires – which can damage bushland/tree areas, and even people’s homes (tobaccofreeca.com)
There’s not only the environmental and wild life loss in the instance of a fire, but people may lose homes and buildings, there can be deaths, and there’s an economic cost to rebuild.
Growing Tobacco & Environmental Impact
[Deforestation, and climate change can be side effects of growing tobacco:]
Trees are cleared in order to make room for tobacco cultivation, and for “flue-cured” tobacco, the finished crop is dried using burned wood.
This not only contributes to climate change by releasing CO2 and removing carbon-absorbing trees, it also removes habitat for wild animals and increases the use of harmful pesticides.
Impact Smoking Might Have On Animals & Wildlife
Both wildlife and pets can be impacted by smoking and cigarettes.
– Wild animals can ingest cigarette butts that pollute beaches and the ocean.
– Wild animals also live in the aquatic and other environments that can be contaminated by cigarette chemicals
– If there are fires caused by lit cigarette butts – animals are obviously at danger of being caught in the fire
– It’s also worth noting that air pollution caused by smoking (by release of particulate matter and other air contaminants) also lowers air quality for wild animals
[Apart from wild animals, pets in our homes can suffer from the effects of smoking via] secondhand smoke (inhalation) and thirdhand smoke (toxic residue on the fur and feathers, carpet, and bedding).
[So, there can be health issues for pets]
[Puppies and other pets can also ingest cigarette butts that aren’t disposed of properly]
Recent Trends Of Smoking Tobacco, & Prevalence Of Smoking
The following is information about smoking trends in the US provided by drugabuse.gov (apart from the one ncbi.nlm.nih.gov source listed):
% Of Population That Uses Tobacco Products
Approximately one fourth of the population uses tobacco products
% Of The Population That Smokes Cigarettes
… 19.4 percent [of the population] smoke cigarettes
Smoking Rate Trends Over Time
Smoking rates continue to go down year to year; the percentage of people over age 18 who smoke cigarettes declined from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2016
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov also indicates that the … the prevalence [of smoking] has declined substantially since the first US Surgeon General’s report (from 43% in 1965 to 18% today), but it remains a leading cause of preventable death in the United States [including both direct smoking, and secondhand smoking related deaths]
Smoking Rates Amongst Different Groups In Society
However, smoking rates are substantially higher among some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The 25 percent of Americans with mental disorders, including addiction, account for 40 percent of the cigarettes smoked in the U.S.
More than 40 percent of people with a General Education Development certificate (GED) smoke
People who live in rural areas, particularly in the South Atlantic states, use all forms of tobacco at higher rates than people who live in urban areas
Smoking among youth is also at historically low levels
How To Reduce The Prevalence Of Smoking In Society