Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock
Source: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

Are you a smoker? Are you looking for one more reason to quit? If so, thinking about the pecuniary drain on your bank account can be one more addition to a Rolodex of reasons why you should never start smoking, or quit sooner than later. New research from Stanford University shows that, statistically, smoking costs much more than simply the money smokers spend on cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States. This includes nearly 42,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. Approximately one in five American deaths are linked to cigarette smoking. This is 1,300 deaths every day. On average, smokers tend to die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

Typically, health concerns are the driving force that inspires individuals to quit smoking. But increasingly, the financial cost of being a smoker seems to be taking a heavy toll, and motivating smokers to quit. Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook: “27 months today of No Smoking. Saved nearly $10,000 and recently got a clean bill of health at the doctor's. Bills paid, money in the bank, and breathing normally.” Congratulations, and thank you for the inspiration, Dan!

The Financial Cost of Smoking Is One More Reason to Quit

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend from college who has smoked a pack of cigarettes a day since she was a teenager. She has a terrific job and earns more than average. But, she did say she really needs to quit smoking. She knows that I don’t judge her in any way for being a smoker . . . but that as a public health advocate, I’m always on the lookout for ways to encourage smoking cessation. I told her that I’d keep my antennae up for any new research that offers advice, or inspiration, to quit smoking.

When I first read the headline of the Stanford smoking study this morning, the empirical part of my brain had a slight conniption fit triggered by the most basic scientific rule that “correlation does not imply causation.” In a classic case of, “Which came first, the chicken-or-the-egg?” I asked myself how the researchers could ever pinpoint if people who were generally less likely to get a new job (for any number of reasons) also fit a demographic that is more likely to smoke, again, for lots of possible reasons.

Obviously, the notion that being a smoker causes someone to be less employable and earn less is very difficult to prove scientifically. Initially, I wasn’t going to write about this study because some of the empirical data seemed dubious. However, after reading the study more closely, I realized that the Stanford researchers obviously understood that correlation doesn’t mean causation, and are sending a much broader public health message.

Smoking Is Correlated With Employment Challenges

Previous research has shown a consistent statistical correlation between tobacco smoking and unemployment. While the findings of this correlation are consistent, the epidemiologic investigations of smoking and work status have been cross-sectional, focusing only on a snapshot of one moment in time. This makes it impossible to determine whether tobacco use is a cause or effect of unemployment. The new Stanford study, which took place over a year, adds valuable insights based on its duration.

The April 2016 study, “Likelihood of Unemployed Smokers vs Nonsmokers Attaining Reemployment in a One-Year Observational Study,” was published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

The objective of this study was to examine differences in reemployment based on smoking status during a 12-month period. The authors found that unemployed smokers were less likely to get new jobs and when they did find employment, they earned an average of $5 less an hour.

For this study, Judith J. Prochaska, Ph.D., M.P.H., of Stanford University and coauthors examined differences in reemployment by smoking status over a 12-month period in a group of 251 unemployed job seekers in the city of San Francisco and neighboring Marin counties in California.

Among the 251 original participants (131 daily smokers and 120 nonsmokers), 217 participants completed the 12-month follow-up surveys. The authors report that 60 of 108 nonsmokers (55.6 percent) were reemployed compared with 29 of 109 smokers (26.6 percent). The results suggest nonsmokers were 30 percent more likely (on average) to be reemployed after one year compared with smokers.

The nonsmokers also tended to earn more money. The hourly wage for smokers was about $5 less at an average of $15.10 per hour compared to $20.27 per hour for nonsmokers. If someone averaged a 40-hour work week, this is a deficit of more than $10,400 annually for smokers.

Conclusion: Smoking Cessation Takes a Wide Range of Motivating Factors

 Butterfly Hunter/Shutterstock
Source: Butterfly Hunter/Shutterstock

If you need one more reason to never become a smoker—or to quit today—I hope these new findings motivate you. My objective for writing about this research is not to make someone who smokes feel 'less than' in any way, but rather to use science-based research to inspire healthier lifestyle choices. 

The authors emphasize that their study has a wide range of limitations that include exclusion criteria, sample size, and participants in a geographic area with a low smoking prevalence and a high stigma about smoking.

That said, the authors conclude, "As a 'one-stop shop' for employment resources, employment service agencies could raise awareness of tobacco-related costs, wage losses, health harms and associations with lower reemployment success and serve as a connector to low-cost cessation services such as state quit-lines."

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first study to prospectively track reemployment success based on smoking status. If you happen to be out of work and are currently smoking, maybe now is a good time to quit? Also, if you want to increase your employability and wage earning throughout your lifespan, this study suggests that becoming a smoker could undermine your career success.  

Statistically, smokers have a lower likelihood of reemployment and are paid significantly less than nonsmokers when reemployed. The treatment and cessation of tobacco use might be a new angle for unemployment services and individuals to focus on as part of a strategy to increase reemployment success and financial well-being for people from all walks of life. 

To read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts,

© 2016 Christopher Bergland. All rights reserved.

Follow me on Twitter @ckbergland for updates on The Athlete’s Way blog posts.

The Athlete’s Way ® is a registered trademark of Christopher Bergland.

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