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900,000 Australian Dead since 1950

One of the subjects from my MBA this semester was Economics for Managers, boring subject matter with interesting applications in the real world (even if I don’t agree with everything being proposed). One of the assignments led Dominik Ziomek and myself to explore Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s proposal to remove all branding from cigarette packets and dramatically increase cigarette tax.

To put cigarettes into their real context… the Australian population is around 21.5 million. Since 1901, including both World Wars, we’ve lost 102,807 servicemen to conflict (according to the official records of the Australian War Memorial). That’s since Federation.

The official figures for Australian deaths as a result of cigarette addiction since 1950 are 900,000. Yes, nearly a million people have died as a result of smoking cigarettes in the last 59 years.

So, if you count all the costs of cigarette smoking including palliative care and other medical expenses of maintaining a mass of slow deaths within the population, as well as lost productivity of 900,000 potential workers then we’re definately not doing as well out of cigarette addiction in the long run as we appear to be in the short run. Kevin Rudd is actually right and regardless of whatever the cigarette companies whine about their loss of branding – they are costing our country significantly. In fact, were any other country responsible for 900,000 dead Australians we’d be demanding a war.

This is an example where there may be economic profit in an industry but the footprint created by the industry is larger than the economic profit they generate.

Yes, there are employment opportunities created around the death industry such as nursing careers, mobility aids and medical equipment, oxygen bottles and elevation beds, to name a few. But they pale against the backdrop of the true costs to Australia of the cigarette. Without branding the cigarette cannot tell our teenagers that it’s cool to smoke. And with higher taxes a few more will give up, and a lot more will be far less likely to take up smoking in the first place due to the inelastic demand from addicts and the elastic demand of first-time smokers.

And who celebrates the fallen from cigarettes every year? Nobody. We shuffle the dirty little secret under the big red carpet of the economy year after year. The truth is that the cost of a packet of cigarettes is nowhere near a true reflection of its cost to society. Could we describe our cigarette smokers as the 20th Century stolen generations? Because they’re gone, gone, gone. And still going…

While, as a smoker, you do have every right to kill yourself you don’t have any right to kill the people standing at the bus stop with you. Nor do you have the right to cost more than you pay for the product. Like I said to a young guy in a kiosk line who lit up, “Hey you don’t try to kill me and I won’t try to kill you“.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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