There is a question that has been bugging me for some time.

I was reading Róisín Shortarse’s framework for tobacco control in Ireland and I came across That Figure again.  Incidentally, this is the same Róisín Shortarse who thinks raising the price of booze will cure all alcohol problems.

And what is That Figure you may ask?

“It is estimated that [smoking] related healthcare costs account for up to 15% of all annual healthcare costs here”

Strangely the paper then talks about “between 6% and 15% of all annual healthcare costs” which seems rather vague to say the least? And that would also assume that 85 to 94% of all healthcare costs are incurred by non-smokers?

But that’s beside the point.  The point is


How do they estimate that smokers cost the health service €365 million a year?  What exactly incurs these costs and how do they know they are “smoking related”?

I have been smoking now for over forty years.  I have never been to the doctor with anything that could remotely be described as “smoking related”.  I have had my medical trials and tribulations but none of them had anything to do with smoking.  What’s more, I know a lot of people who smoke and they have the same story.  Sadly I did know a few people who died of cancer but the majority never smoked in their lives.

So what is this mysterious ailment that is incurring these huge costs?  Are they counting everyone who presents with a cough and assume that they are all smokers?  Are they assuming that all cancers are “smoking related”?  Is every child who presents with Glue Ear counted amongst the smoking casualties?

I would love to know where they get their figures from.

And why do I suspect that they are figures that are gleefully plucked out of the air to scare the sheeple?

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Think of a number — 5 Comments

  1. My auld lad used to smoke 40 a day for over fifty years, not a bother on him. He gave them up at 70 and got cancer! He used to say the fresh air killed him!

  2. I think what they do is to say for example:

    Smokers have a 1.5 (say) increased relative risk of a heart attack.
    Therefore if you had 100 heart attacks in a non-smoking population you would have 150 in a smoking population.

    30% of the population smoke.

    So apportioning the attacks amongst the real population, instead of 100 attacks per N number of population you would have 70 + 30*1.5 = 115 in total. Which is an excess of 15/115 = 14% attributable to smoking.

    Next, they take the cost of treating heart attacks and calculate 14% of that and blame it on smoking. So 14% of the cost is attributed regardless of whether particular patients smoked.
    This is an abuse of statistics for two reasons:

    1. There are around 300 risk factors for heart attacks and if you did the same calculation for each risk factor you would end up with vastly more attacks than actually occurred.

    2. The money is not saved because everyone dies of something in the end.

    Eysenck covers this quite well in his book which can be found on

  3. Smokers pay a shitload of tax for their indulgence.
    If The Gubmint used the Vat and Excise taxes from Tobacco for Smokers’ Healthcare there would’nt be this problem. Smokers are paying for it already along with all the other taxes too.
    I don’t smoke, bye the way, gave it up. I needed the money and wanted to be able to breath.

  4. Not Green – I have seen quite a few “studies” that actually claim that nicotine may have a protective effect against cancer.  Unfortunately, given my skepticism of studies I can’t take them too seriously.  Of course if proper studies were done into the effects of nicotine, they might even discover that they have been missing out on a miraculous prevention!  Stranger things have happened?

    Tony – In other words smokers do cost the health service millions a year, but smoking is probably not the reason for their costs.  By the same token, they could claim that redheads cost the health service millions per year?

    Slab – Smokers probably pay more taxes than any other sector of society, yet the cost factor is regularly thrown out in press releases and other righteous propeganda.  I disagree that there is a problem in the first case as I don’t believe smokers cost the health service any more than the rest of society.  It’s strange how you never hear of the [provable] costs of sports injuries?

  5. It’s another of the late, lamented, Keith Waterhouse’s “Ministry of Guesswork” surveys isn’t it.   Toss a figure up in the air and run with it.

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