The Unknown Smoker

Yesterday I was considering contemporary Britain as an 88% idle society, in which only 12 people were needed to maintain every 100 people at a minimal standard of living, devoid of all luxuries or amusements. With 25% smoking prevalence, of the 12 working people, on average 3 would be smokers

I then argued that the effect of the 2007 smoking ban was to reduce social idleness from 88% to 87%, as a result of the reduced  work capacity of smokers denied tobacco. Instead of 12 people, it now needed 13 people to keep 100 people alive. The result was reduced profitability of every company in every sector of the economy, and an almost immediate economic slump.

Today I’d like to extend Idle Theory to consider public health.

And from the point of view of Idle Theory, ill health entails some degree of loss of idleness. If someone breaks an arm or a leg, or contracts some disease, their work capacity is reduced. It takes longer for them to do their usual amount of work, and their idleness falls. They may not be able to do any work at all. It may fall to others to step in to keep them alive, and admit them to a hospital where they can be cared for by doctors and nurses. Sometimes the doctors and nurses can’t keep them alive, and they die.

Now it is claimed that smoking causes lung cancer. But only about 10% of smokers ever contract lung cancer. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 70. And lung cancer seems to kill people pretty quickly:

30% of men survive lung cancer for at least one year, and this is predicted to fall to 8% surviving for five years or more,..

Now let’s suppose, for simplicity, that 10% of smokers invariably develop lung cancer at the age of 70, and are dead within a few months. Let’s also suppose that they could have expected to live to the age of 80 years but for getting lung cancer.

In modern Britain, the age of retirement is currently 65 years. And in their retirement people live almost completely idle lives, living off their pensions and savings. And so if they retire at the age 65, they can be supposed to enjoy the last 15 years of their lives in near-perfect idleness, perhaps dying very suddenly of heart attacks at age 80.

So the cost to someone who dies at age 70 of lung cancer is the last 10 idle years of their life. But only 25% of people are smokers, and of these only 10% get lung cancer and die young. So the net loss of idle time is 10% of 25% times 10 years, which is 25 years for every 100 people in the population.

But yesterday we established that the smoking ban reduced social idleness by about 1%. So that meant that smokers in the working population had been raising social idleness by 1%. And so over a lifetime of 80 years, anyone could expect to enjoy 0.8 added years of idle time. In a population of 100 people that would have amounted to an additional 80 years of idle time.

So while smokers had cost society 25 years of idle time, they had also added 80 years of idle time to society – a net gain of 22 years.

But there’s a further benefit from these smokers. For when they die 10 years early, they no longer need to be supported by society for those 10 years. And since we know that at 88% social idleness it requires 0.12 years of work to maintain somebody alive for a year, then each smoker who fails to live out the last 10 years of his life saves somebody else a total of 1.2 years of work. And since the numbers of smokers who die young is 10% of 25% of the population, then in every 100 people,  3.5 die young, and this is a net saving in care is 3.5 times 1.2 years of work, or 4.2 years

So the net gain to a 100-member society from its smokers is 80 – 25 + 4.2, or 59.2 years of idle time.

And furthermore the cost to society had fallen entirely on the smokers themselves. Because they were the ones who died young. The only comparable figures to them that come to mind are those soldiers who go off to battle in war, and save their native country from subjection and slavery, very frequently at the cost of their own lives. In Britain there are memorials to these soldiers in every town. Do Britain’s smokers deserve any less? Should we not have a memorial to the Unknown Smoker to accompany the memorial to the Unknown Soldier? It could be decorated with pipes and cigars and cigarettes. And every year, on 1 July, he would be honoured by an assembly of notables, all puffing on pipes and cigars as they stand in silence before it.

In its assessments of smoking, Tobacco Control fixes entirely upon the costs of smoking, and completely ignores its benefits. If the same were done for soldiers, it would have been to revile them for being hotheads who died young taking stupid risks, while completely ignoring the fact that their native countries only retained their freedom thanks to them.

It might also be asked why people who were living to the age of 65 or 70 years of age a few decades ago are now living to the age of 80. It seems entirely plausible, using a wear-and-tear model of ageing, to suppose that this increase in longevity was a consequence of people living idler lives, during which they suffered fewer insults and injuries to themselves than previous generations. If so, then the 1% increase in social idleness due to a 25% smoking prevalence would have brought some small increase in longevity with it. So the benefits that accrue from smoking may be even greater than the present analysis suggests.

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22 Responses to The Unknown Smoker

  1. As with yesterday’s post, it all sounds pretty logical & well thought out l to me (not that i have any great relationship with logic)so my question to Frank is why has no one ‘picked up’ on this? Why aren’t post grads looking for a doctoral thesis knocking down your door? That’s a genuine question btw not hidden criticism.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Why aren’t post grads looking for a doctoral thesis knocking down your door?

      One obvious reason is that I only wrote it yesterday, and the postgrads haven’t read it yet.

  2. Vlad says:

    ##It might also be asked why people who were living to the age of 65 or 70 years of age a few decades ago are now living to the age of 80. It seems entirely plausible, using a wear-and-tear model of ageing, to suppose that this increase in longevity was a consequence of people living idler lives, during which they suffered fewer insults and injuries to themselves than previous generations.##

    ‘Public health’ standard answer to this question is that people are smoking less :)). Of course that’s unsubstantiated BS. I asked myself the same question and I reached the same conclusion as you.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I’ve just been looking at UK life expectancy

      Life expectancy in the UK has almost doubled over the past 150+ years.

      The graph ascribes this to things like immunization and treatments for heart disease.

      But I’ve been looking at the various Factory Acts during the 19th c which progressively reduced factory working days from 12-14 hours/day to 8 hours a day, with women and children being exempted.

      There’s also the various Education Acts which established schools (ending child labour?). And there’s public and private transport which made it easier to travel, and transport things.

      I reckon that more recent products like washing machines were also great labour saving devices. When I was a boy in the 1950s, we had coal fires which required coal and coke to be lugged in from an outside shed to keep them burning. And we quite often walked all the way to the shops, and walked back carrying laden bags. And on very cold days we’d be shivering even inside the house.

      Add street lighting, better roads.

      In another article it was reported that life expectancy in SE England is 82.4 years, while in Scotland it’s 79.1 years. I can’t help but think that it’s colder in Scotland, and people will have to expend more energy on food and fuel, and so work harder, and be less idle than us southern softies.

      • Frank Davis says:


        Express feb 4 2017

        Work until you DROP! Ministers WILL raise retirement age to 74 – shock Treasury prediction

        BRITONS in their 20s face decades of hard work ahead of them as the Treasury predicts the retirement age will rise by 10 years to 74 as the cost of living longer spirals out of control.

      • Rose says:

        Don’t forget the effect of the Clean Air Acts, those people where carrying an awful burden.

        Pre Great London Smog

        Mortality in the London Boroughs, 1950—52, with Special Reference to Respiratory Disease

        he Great Smog of 1952

        A fog so thick and polluted it left thousands dead wreaked havoc on London in 1952. The smoke-like pollution was so toxic it was even reported to have choked cows to death in the fields. It was so thick it brought road, air and rail transport to a virtual standstill. This was certainly an event to remember, but not the first smog of its kind to hit the capital.

        Smog had become a frequent part of London life, but nothing quite compared to the smoke-laden fog that shrouded the capital from Friday 5 December to Tuesday 9 December 1952. While it heavily affected the population of London, causing a huge death toll and inconveniencing millions of people, the people it affected were also partly to blame for the smog.

        During the day on 5 December, the fog was not especially dense and generally possessed a dry, smoky character. When nightfall came, however, the fog thickened. Visibility dropped to a few metres. The following day, the sun was too low in the sky to burn the fog away. That night and on the Sunday and Monday nights, the fog again thickened. In many parts of London, it was impossible at night for pedestrians to find their way, even in familiar districts. In The Isle of Dogs area, the fog there was so thick people could not see their feet.”
        http: //

        The Clean Air Act After 50 Years

      • Frank Davis says:

        Also clean water and good sanitation.

  3. nisakiman says:

    Sort of off topic, or a juxtaposition if you like; ‘The known smokers’.

    I just came across this link on Twitter. A quote from Noel Gallagher is just one of the gems:

    Oasis musician Noel Gallagher is a big time smoker. In 2013 he said, “I saw the drummer from Muse smoking an electronic cigarette. A cigarette with a battery in. I had to say to him: ‘Really? Really? Is that where you are at? Do me a favour mate, either have a proper one outside, or don’t have one.’ It lit up green when he had a drag of it. Nonsense.”

    Celebrities who smoke

  4. waltc says:

    The economic theory that smokers die younger and therefore save society money (pensions etc) while also dying after retirement age (and therefore not “costing” in lost productivity) has been around for about 25 years. I think the first guy to point that out was one Kip Viscusi (qv). His argument has frequently been used to counter the notions that smokers are a financial burden to society when actually their lifetime tobacco taxes plus their pension savings show they pay much more than they “take.” Then too it’s been said that an earlier, temporarily expensive death is still cheaper than the accumulated medical expenses of a longer life in advanced age.

  5. garyk30 says:

    It is no surprise that smokers die, on average, at a younger age.

    The majority of smokers are in a lower social-economic class.

    That class, as a whole, tend to die at a younger age than the average. I

    • waltc says:

      Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t agreeing with the “smokers die younger bevause they smoke” thing, just saying the above theory has been out there

      • Frank Davis says:

        The “above theory” includes the added extra (and key) ingredient that smokers are better workers than non-smokers. Kip Viscusi doesn’t seem to have been saying that.

    • smokingscot says:

      Agreed, however I have looked at the stats for Scotland and:

      1) They’re cannon fodder for the military.

      2) They were used to work coal mines and lived in towns near blast furnaces (so exposed to high levels of pollution).

      3) They still tend towards “the trades” type jobs, some of which (roofing and such) are still very dangerous.

      4) They’re what fill some of our worst forms of social housing where very physical things are the norm, especially if they’re late for a loan repayment.

      The fact this group still has the highest number of smokers isn’t as important to life expectancy – IMO – than many of the points I’ve mentioned above.

    • Joe L. says:

      The majority of smokers are in a lower social-economic class. That class, as a whole, tend to die at a younger age than the average.

      Yes, but smoking has only been relegated to lower socio-economic classes because Tobacco Control has engineered it so. Over the course of a handful of generations, smoking has gone from being a pastime of the high classes only to a pastime enjoyed by all classes, to its current role as an “addiction” of the lower classes only.

  6. waltc says:

    Here’s a fine piece by Puddlecote on the FDA’s latest glimmer

  7. Pingback: Squiggle It, Just A Little Bit… – Library of Libraries

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