NPR 7/16/2010: “Death Saves You Money”

Hot on the heels of Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan’s unwise observations on how smoking might save Social Security by inducing premature death comes an NPR look into the same general subject (see below). Again, it refers back to Philip Morris’s ill-fated Czech study which concluded that smoking is good for society because it kills people off early so they don’t strain social services, etc.

The Friday Podcast: Death Saves You Money

July 16, 2010 06:24 pm

Photo: Mel Evans/AP
You can listen to the podcast at:

A decade ago, Philip Morris commissioned a study that found smokers in the Czech Republic were actually saving society money.

A big part of the savings: Smoking tends to kill people while they’re still young, saving society the long-term costs of caring for them as they get older.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this finding blew up in the company’s face.

Newspapers around the world picked up the story: “Smoking Cuts Elderly Costs, and Elderly

The company furiously backtracked: “We understand the outrage that has been expressed and we sincerely regret this extraordinarily unfortunate incident.”

Activists used the study’s findings against the industry — and, paradoxically, sought to undermine the study’s conclusions.

On today’s Planet Money, we tell the story of the study. And we look more broadly at the economics of this stuff.

For more on the story of the Czech smoking study, listen to our piece on this weekend’s This American Life. (Find out when the show airs on your local station.)

For further reading: Here’s the Philip Morris 2001 Czech study. Here’s a frequently cited study from the mid-’90s comparing cigarette taxes to the costs smoking imposes on society. Here’s another study on the subject from the Congressional Research Service.

2 responses to “NPR 7/16/2010: “Death Saves You Money”

  1. Martin the PM study wasn’t anything new. I examined the whole cost/expenses thing in the Brains Appendix “Taxes, Social Costs, and the MSA” which is also available free online at:

    I’d also like to note that while it’s an easy target to poke at PM for taking those end-of-life costs/savings into account, it’s actually very derelict of antismoking advocates NOT to take them into account.

    What they are doing, literally, is playing a child’s game of “Let’s Pretend.” Let’s pretend that smoking makes smokers sicker than nonsmokers and therefore costs society money. And then let’s also pretend at the same time that smokers live just as long as nonsmokers and have the same old-age expenses.

    If you’re going to argue against smoking on the basis of economics you have to do it honestly and look at all the factors in the equation.

    Otherwise you’re just playing in a sandbox building castles to be knocked over with the next gust of wind.

    Martin, I think we’re BOTH old enough not to play “Let’s Pretend.”

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  2. Reese Erick Forbes

    So basically Big Tobacco and various politicians are admitting that smoking kills people and that they actually want to kill people so the rest of us have more money as time progresses !!

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