Benefits and Costs of Smoking Bans

I started to think today about smoking bans from the perspective of Idle Theory. Idle Theory measures everything in terms of people’s time – freedom, wealth, value, profit, money, prices, good, evil, justice. It’s a unified theory. It’s a bit like Utilitarianism with happiness or utility replaced by idle time. A quick résumé of Idle Theory:

In Idle Theory, people are regarded as alternating between being idle and busy working at essential life-maintaining tasks, and their “idleness” is the fraction of their time that they are idle. The individual shown below is 33% or 0.33 idle:


Idleness can range from 0 to 1, with 0 being completely busy (and on the threshold of death), and 1 being perfectly idle (an unattainable, divine state). Economic growth is growth in social idleness, whereby life gets more idle or easier for people.

Economic growth is mostly the product of technological innovation. The inventor of the first stone axe found that he could carry out many essential tasks (e.g. cutting down trees) much more quickly using his axe, thus increasing his idleness. The value of such a tool was the increase in idleness it generated over its lifetime. Its cost was the decrease in idleness required to make the axe over the period of its manufacture. A tool was profitable if its value exceeded its cost – something that allowed it to be sold at a price greater than its cost.

Economic growth brought increasing idleness. In their idle time people could do as they liked, rather than as circumstances demanded, so increasing idleness brought increasing freedom. And with increasing idleness people became able to engage in a variety of cultural activities – reading, writing, art, music, dance, games, and every kind of enquiry (e.g. science).

What was good was whatever increased idleness and freedom. And what was evil was whatever decreased idleness and freedom. If anyone did something which cost someone else some amount of their idle time, they should be obliged to repay it. Assault, murder, theft, vandalism, fraud, extortion, etc, all deprive some number of people some amount of their idle time, for which they should in justice be owed compensation from the culprits.

Now back to smoking bans:

The advocates of pub smoking bans maintain that they are beneficial because they protect people from diseases caused by environmental tobacco smoke. Dis-ease, as its name implies, is a lack of ease, or a lack of idleness. And the extreme of disease, like the extreme of lack of idleness, is death. Let’s not argue and instead suppose that these health claims are truthful, and that prior to the pub smoking ban in Britain 10 people per year died from inhaling environmental tobacco smoke (this is the sort of figure I’ve seen).

However this only considers health consequences. They neglect all other costs or benefits. Let’s start including some of the other costs.

Sitting in a pub, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, is an idle time activity. So for Britain’s smokers, pub smoking bans curtail a freedom they formerly enjoyed. Smoking bans deprive them of an idle time activity. Smoking bans deprive them of idle time.

It might be argued that the idleness of Britain’s smokers is not reduced by forbidding them from smoking in pubs. There are plenty of other idle time activities that they can engage in, ranging from watching TV or playing computer games through reading books or going for walks. But if someone doesn’t want to engage in any of these alternative activities, but in their idle time wants only to sit in a pub with a pint of beer and a cigarette, smoking bans deprive them of many hours of idle time, as they are prevented from doing what they want to do.

Let’s get some numbers. Prior to the UK smoking ban I used to visit a local pub every day for an hour or so. Since the smoking ban, I only visit pubs in summer to sit outside in the gardens where smoking is still permitted. Over a whole year, I probably now average one visit to a pub each week – one seventh of my former rate. So the smoking ban costs me 365 x 6/7 or 313 hours of my preferred idle time activity each year. In fact the cost is even greater, because I must on each occasion also forfeit the extra cost of buying a drink inside and taking it outside. And in addition, I must quite often walk or drive an extra distance to find (and return from) a pub with a garden. If the sum of these extra costs is a quarter of an hour for each pub visit, this is an additional 13 hours/year cost to me. And I haven’t even added the extortionate ‘sin’ taxes I am made to pay for the tobacco I smoke, and all the various costs attendant on the social exclusion that comes with being “exiled to the outdoors”.

So if I just take the costs associated with visiting pubs, I am deprived of about 326 hours per year of my preferred idle time activity. And since there are some 10 million smokers in Britain, then if each of them suffers the same deprivation, that is a combined loss of 3.26 billion hours, or 136 million days, or 372,000 years per year before sin taxes and social exclusion costs are added.

Against this must be set the 10 lives that are saved each year thanks to the smoking ban. If a lifetime is taken to be 70 years, then the value of 10 lives is 700 years. And so from the the net cost to Britain’s smokers of 372,000 years of idle time per year, 700 years/year should be subtracted, to leave approximately 371,000 years lost per year. And since the UK smoking ban has been in force for nearly 9 years, the total loss to Britain’s smokers currently amounts to 3.3 million years of idle time.

And, given that the anyone who costs people their idle time should be required to repay it, Britain’s smokers are owed 3.3 million years. If this number is monetarised at £20/hour, it amounts to £385 billion, or £58,000 per smoker at £6500 per smoker per year.

Who should pay these reparations? If the government pays up such amounts, it will be with general taxes levied on entirely blameless taxpayers. Very arguably, the full burden should be placed upon the advocates of smoking bans in Tobacco Control. They should pay the £385 billion.

But most likely, Tobacco Control has only a fraction of the assets required to pay such a debt. The debt is simply too great to be repaid.

This is one way of getting a slightly more balanced picture of the effect of smoking bans. To treat them as if they were purely health-related and nothing else is to miss a far bigger picture. Smoking bans have lots of additional effects apart from on health. I haven’t even mentioned the costs to the hospitality industry.

If Tobacco Control were to be presented with the true bill for the smoking ban it called for, it would be bankrupted overnight. It would cease to exist.

Which is exactly what needs to happen to it.

About Frank Davis

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21 Responses to Benefits and Costs of Smoking Bans

  1. Factor in as well the fact that your loss of preferred idle time is something real and known, whereas the “ten lives lost” is pure speculation based upon formulae run through the SCAMMEC (Smoking Claimed Attributable Morbidity, Mortality, and Economic Costs — the “Claimed” is my own addition for a more accurate acronym.) Additionally, those “ten lives lost” overlook an unknown number of lives lost DUE to the ban — either from job losses (There’s a VERY direct and causal correlation between low/mid income job loss and deaths among the workers/owners and their families.), or from airborne disease concentrations increasing in pubs that no longer have to have ten to twenty air-changes per hour since they banned smoking.

    All in all, in so many different ways, smoking bans have resulted in far more pain and destruction that they’ve ever prevented.

    – MJM

    • prog says:

      And there were many, many smokers whose social lives were almost exclusively centred on pubs (including mine and my other half”s). The ban has hit her particularly badly, she really used to come alive with a pint and a cig in like minded company – including almost all pub loving non-smokers, who sadly, all (bar a couple) seem to have succumbed to the lies – they’ve changed to the point that she see’s no reason to associate with them unless absolutely necessary.

      • Frank Davis says:

        My social life was almost exclusively centred on pubs too.

        Needless to say, it was completely shattered.

        • beobrigitte says:

          At this point in time I am independent and can do as I please, i.e. invite friends round for nice evenings. The smoking ban shattered my life most cruelly in destroying the pleasure of discussing over a drink and a cigarette in the intervals the production, lighting/sound etc. etc. in e.g. an 8 hour session of Wagner’s “Nibelungenring”. Or a grunge band concert, or over Joseph Boys …. etc. etc. etc.
          It isn’t only social interactions taking the hit. My cultural adventures have virtually stopped. I just refuse to be kicked out the door.
          And then:
          I look at the current 80+ year olds now whose only social contact used to be the weekly trip to a Bingo Hall. The smoking ban killed their only social venue. Suicide attempts by members of the elderly population out of loneliness is not rare.

    • Frank Davis says:

      the “ten lives lost” is pure speculation based upon formulae run through the SCAMMEC

      Yes, of course. But this imaginary ‘benefit’ gets completely buried by just one of the real costs.

    • Jonathan Bagley says:

      “Lives lost” is a meaningless phrase. Reduction in life expectancy per capita is the relevant quantity, and for passive smoking, even using the figures claimed by the Anti Tobacco Industry, it works out to be in the order of minutes.

  2. Roobeedoo2 says:

    All those pubs that went gourmet to attract people’s idle time had better watch out:

    ‘But those at No 10 and the Department of Health involved in producing what ministers insist will be a game-changing document would do well to bear in mind NHS England boss Simon Stevens’s view that “obesity is the new smoking” and be guided by lessons from the decades-long but ultimately successful fight against tobacco.’

    I wonder what will be the ‘new tobacco’ in the future?

  3. Lepercolonist says:

    If you were blessed by hitting the genetic lottery and are now considered the idle rich, common people show disdain because you did not ‘earn’ your wealth. The working rich are held in higher esteem. The children of the working rich receive their trust funds and are then considered the idle rich.

  4. waltc says:

    Interesting that the govts of Europe are so concerned about ten theoretical deaths, claiming “even one” such death justifies banning and shunning a fifth of their own law-abiding populations, yet gladly give free rein to people who actually shoot or explode hundreds at a time.

    And while you,re counting up the costs of the bans, don’t forget that loneliness and social isolation also cause disease or, at best, depression. And how much is that costing the NHS? (The costs to smokers, of course, don’t count.)

    Gary–your comments on comparative death stats could be useful in response to an article by Simon Chapman. Don’t have the url offhand but the article’s posted at CLASH

    • Frank Davis says:

      A bit like with the ISIS study, I’m tending to think about what practical effects smoking bans have, rather than what people feel in response to them.

      One of the practical effects of isolation, for example, is that there isn’t a helping hand to steady the ladder or put a finger on the knot while you tie the bow. Lots of things take much longer to do.

  5. garyk30 says:

    Another consideration is when those ‘claimed’ deaths will occur.
    The average age in the USA is 39.

    The average age of the deaths ‘claimed’ to be caused by smoking is in the early 70’s.

    So, it will be about 30 years before most of the prevented deaths will be prevented.

    The ‘costs’ that will have occurred before there is a ‘savings’ are a HUGE amount!

  6. prog says:

    Strange how they can pin it down to 10 overall and (I think) 3 in the workplace, yet spent zillions over decades on studies about butter etc killing countless 1000s before deciding it was OK after all.

  7. Clicky says:

  8. beobrigitte says:

    In Idle Theory, people are regarded as alternating between being idle and busy working at essential life-maintaining tasks, and their “idleness” is the fraction of their time that they are idle.

    In theory this works wonderfully, providing there aren’t too many variables involved, in praxis modifications have been made. Whilst the number of hours (officially) being busy have only marginally changed, the busy time has been made much busier so that people use their idle time either to work even more (they don’t want to be seen to need more than 8 hours to do all the work) or need this time to recover.

    There is little interest nowadays in:
    Economic growth brought increasing idleness. In their idle time people could do as they liked, rather than as circumstances demanded, so increasing idleness brought increasing freedom. And with increasing idleness people became able to engage in a variety of cultural activities – reading, writing, art, music, dance, games, and every kind of enquiry (e.g. science).
    simply because idle time has been replaced with more work or recovery time, the latter is usually spent in front of the TV as there is little/no energy to do something else.
    Isn’t it the case of less idleness brings more economic growth? More so in societies with much advanced technology? Or is it just greed that has brought us “burn-out”?

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