The cost of smoking in America has reached $300 billion annually. (Courtesy photo)
Courtesy photo

Smoking not only can ruin your health, it also can burn a nasty hole through your wallet.

Tobacco use accounts for nearly 500,000 deaths in the United States each year and is the leading cause of lung cancer, according to the American Lung Association.

Even those around tobacco smokers aren’t safe from its harmful effects. Since 1964, smoking-related illnesses have claimed 20 million lives in the U.S., 2.5 million of which belonged to nonsmokers who developed diseases merely from secondhand-smoke exposure, according to WalletHub, a District-based financial website.

However, the economic and societal costs of smoking-related issues are just as staggering, WalletHub experts said. Every year, Americans collectively spend more than $300 billion, which 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.”

Unfortunately, some must pay more depending on the state in which they live. To encourage the estimated 36.5 million tobacco users in the country to kick the dangerous habit, WalletHub’s analysts gauged the true per-person cost of smoking in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

They calculated the potential monetary losses — including both the lifetime and annual cost of a cigarette pack per day, health care expenditures, income losses and other costs — brought on by smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.

The tobacco costs were highest in Alaska at $1.55 million, given that the state’s per-pack prices are among the highest in the country. After adding in lower wages and higher health care costs, Alaskan smokers incur costs of $2.03 million across their lifetimes, the highest in the country.

After Alaska, 10 states with the highest smoking costs are: Connecticut ($1.99 million); New York ($1.98 million); Massachusetts ($1.98 million); Rhode Island ($1.95 million); New Jersey ($1.87 million); Hawaii ($1.85 million); Washington, D.C. ($1.75 million); Vermont ($1.74 million); and Washington ($1.67 million).

The 10 states where the least financial impact from smoking are: South Carolina ($1.1 million); West Virginia ($1.1 million); Kentucky ($1.1 million); Mississippi ($1.15 million); Georgia ($1.15 million); Tennessee ($1.17 million); Alabama ($1.18 million); Missouri ($1.18 million); North Carolina ($1.19 million); and Louisiana ($1.2 million).

“Quitting saves you the money of not buying a pack, but you don’t realize how much you are saving in health care and insurance premiums,” said WalletHub spokeswoman Jill Gonzalez. “That is really what will impact people, seeing these prices added together.”

To determine the cost of buying tobacco, WalletHub considered the per-price pack in each state and projected the expense if each smoker bought one pack a day starting at age 18, when smoking is legal, until they reached 69 years old, which is the average age of death for smokers.

It then calculated the amount of return that smoker would have earned if they had invested their cigarette money in the S&P 500 instead.

Smokers tend to earn less money than non-smokers, while also incurring loss of income due to absenteeism and smoking-related health problems, WalletHub noted. The study assumed smokers had an 8 percent decrease in median household income for each state, based on research from the Federal Reserve of Atlanta.

About 42 percent of Americans with only GED diplomas smoke, compared with 9.1 percent of those with college degrees, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, college grads earn median weekly income of $1,108, or about 70 percent more than those with only high school degrees.

While smokers may be subjected to workplace bias, there’s also a link between smoking and lower education levels, study authors said. There’s also policy differences that can influence or even encourage smokers.

“Generally, the extent to which state and local policies may encourage smoking cessation varies for light versus heavy smokers,” said Michael Darden, a WalletHub expert and assistant professor of Economics at Tulane University. “For light smokers, some combination of more dramatic warning labels, higher taxes, and indoor smoking bans have been shown to be effective. For heavy smokers with a strong nicotine addiction, policies designed to encourage cessation need to increasingly be heavy-handed.”

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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