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.