Pay Yourself a Bonus: Quit Smoking


At about $5 a pack, cigarettes cost someone smoking a pack a day $1,825 a year. That’s the baseline economic incentive to quit and puts money immediately into your pocket.

But a new study that compares wages for smokers and non-smokers says the benefits don’t stop there.

Quit smoking and earn more money?

A “working paper” by two economists compared wages between former smokers, current smokers and those who never took up the habit at all. The results were surprising. While it is known that smoking is associated with lower wages, those who once smoked and managed to quit actually make more than those who have avoided smoking altogether.

The paper, by Julie L. Hotchkiss and M. Melinda Pitts, finds that the never-smoked group made 94 percent of the wages of quitters, while both groups outpaced current smokers, who only made 80 percent of the others. Even one cigarette a day was enough to lower average income.

Is it a marker of willpower, discipline or something else? The authors were unable to tell. One suggestion is that employers view ex-smokers differently, perhaps respecting their ability to overcome the addiction.

Societal cost of smoking higher than individual

According to the American Lung Association, the costs of smoking aren’t all borne directly by the smoker, and this might have something to do with the wage disparity. Cigarettes (at $5 a pack) have a societal cost amounting to more than $18 a pack. Some of this cost is paid by employers because of lost productivity and increased healthcare costs.

One of the paper’s authors put it this way:

It takes a special person to quit an addictive behavior, and there is a higher reward for smoking cessation than not ever starting it. I think the qualities of persistence, patience and everything else that goes along with being able to quit are valuable to employers.

Smokers who want to significantly bump up their incomes would do well to quit, both for the immediate cash rewards and the increased earnings potential.


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