Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The public cost of smoking and drinking

From The Pin Factory Blog comes a posting on The Wages of Sin Taxes: The True Cost of Taxing Alcohol, Tobacco and Other "Vices" which includes this point:
The public cost of smoking and drinking

Taxes on cigarettes and alcohol have often been justified by studies that claim to estimate the “social cost” of these vices. These studies include intangible costs borne by individual consumers, such as “emotional distress”, lost years of life, and individual expenditures on cigarettes and alcohol. These are personal costs, not social costs. They also fail to include the economic benefits the alcohol and cigarette industry gives to the UK in terms of employment and government revenue. Most of these studies should be relegated to the bin of junk statistics.

In fact, smokers and heavy drinkers do not cost the state more. Though smokers may cost more during their working lives, but non-smokers require greater expenditure in pensions, nursing care and welfare payments. Chronic diseases associated with old age are far more expensive than the lethal diseases associated with smoking and alcoholism. Smokers and drinkers are not a burden on the state, and the myth of saints subsidising sinners should not be used to justify tax rises.
A common problem with many studies of the costs of alcohol, tobacco et al is that they seem to assume that if it wasn't for the alcohol, smoking or whatever, people would live forever and never cost of the health system anything! If fact non-drinkers, non-smokers etc do die, albeit later than drinkers, smokers etc, and die of things that cost the health system as least as much as the diseases of drinkers and smokers. These non-vice costs need to be incorporated into any study of the costs of "vices". Dying early can save the health (and pension) system money.

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