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Wispy white smoke or cold hard cash?

By Judy Cannon - posted Thursday, 7 December 2017


Dear Reader,

So you just don't want to know? I didn't once either. But please can we have this one conversation and for a short while consider a handful of facts, together with a possibility? You think I'm one of those anti-smoking nuts? Well, yes and no. I'm a journalist who once smoked 80 cigarettes a day. Some people don't believe that. Emphysema is my proof. Never, in the old days, did I stub out even one half of a precious ciggy. I was working long hours at the time. Excuse? Reason? A bit bonkers? Believe what you will.

I loved to smoke. It promises relaxation as you watch that first white wisp of smoke slowly curl its way skywards. Funnily enough I can't remember ever feeling especially relaxed but must have. Why else would I have kept on smoking? I turned a deaf ear to all health pleadings of fond family and friends. I was convinced it was all exaggerated and in any case, nothing bad was going to happen, was it? Please read on, I once didn't want to listen either; not, that is, until I started to choke. I hate to tell you how scary that was, but never mind that now. It seems, of all the people currently suffering poor health from smoking, men are on the decrease. Now more women, who took to smoking in numbers later than men, are experiencing health effects.

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You dress well, so obviously you like money to spend. And today money is what I'm really on about. Cold, hard cash, or hard-up, cashed-up credit cards. Those handy little number carriers which tell invisible tellers to notch up yet another minus every time you buy a packet of smokes, or indeed a carton. At least you feel no pocket pain at the time. I confess, these days, the memory of money spent on ciggies brings tears to my eyes quicker than the baccy smoke ever did.

I have some facts and figures for you. While the figures do not always match same time periods for exact comparison, they do indicate the overall upward drift of tobacco costs over the past 20 years and some of its tentacles. Bear with me for it's your pocket that gets hit. For a packet of 25 cigarettes today you lash out around $35.20, recently up by $2.70 to cover increased taxation. Thank heavens I no longer smoke 80 a day. Tobacco for roll-your-own costs about $34.00 a 25gms packet. In 1998 a packet of cigarettes (maybe 20 not the 25 often in a packet now) cost $1.95. In 1980 the price was $1.00. Big, big difference.

The federal government's take from smokers in tobacco excise in 2016-2017 has been estimated at $10.69 billion, although official estimates anticipated $8 billion. Increasing tobacco prices, through taxation, is seen by the government as its best measure to reduce premature death and disease due to smoking, particularly among youth and the not so well off. As a result, the government increases the tax on tobacco products annually by 12.5%, indeed it did so recently, and will continue until 2020 when a packet of cigarettes is expected to reach a sky-high $40. If I were still smoking 80 a day that would cost at least $840 a week. Sorry about all these figures but they are important.

It is alarming to read that in 2012 global profits of the tobacco industry were estimated at $500 billion mostly shared by six main companies at $35.1 billion each, at a time when 'smoking' deaths were reported as more than six million. That's the equivalent of the whole population of Sydney wiped out, with one more million still to go. It will be interesting to know the final figure for 2017. Tobacco companies expend vast sums on marketing. It is obviously worth it. According to Tobacco in Australia, one major tobacco company which operates in Australasia earned £5,480,000 ($9.8m) in profits in 2015. A separate figure for Australia only was not available.

Effects on health as a result of smoking can involve costs which are not easily identified. Collins and Lapsley (2008) estimated that in 2004–05 the total health cost of smoking in Australia was $31.5 billion and that tobacco killed 15,000 people. In 2017 so far there have been 12,434 new cases of lung cancer among women, 9.3% of all new cancer cases. The total of lung cancer deaths so far for men and women in 2017 is 9,021.

I suspect you tell your family and friends you will give up smoking soon, so maybe you will, even if only to deny tobacco companies the profits they have come to expect. As we all know, only the smoker can make up his or her mind to give up and he or she has to really want to give up, backed by enough will power. Sadly nobody can do it for another person. The trouble is that smoking is a handy habit and most smokers don't want to give up. For myself it's that wispy white ascending smoke that did it. I used to chew gum discreetly when trying to give up the first time and once while reporting police court proceedings, a presiding magistrate soon sent me a message via a burly policeman. I had to despatch the gum. I couldn't leave the hearing in case I missed something, so I quickly stuffed the mashed chewing gum wrapped in a issue into my handbag. Oh, dear, you do suffer when you try to give up. Never mind becoming light-headed, moody, permanently hungry, putting on weight, and all other unwelcome side effects.

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One of the problems is what does a smoker do with both hands if you don't have a ciggy in one of them? And lighting up is a great way to get out of awkward social situations. And at dreary occasions you have an unchallengeable excuse to bolt out of the nearest door to join the happy band of smokers outside. There's a satisfying tinge of rebellion about it. You sense the glares of those left behind which activates your list of ever switched-on defences: you are after-all your own person. It's your body to do with what you like. Health warnings are over-the-top. You just don't care. Even if, secretly, that persistent tickle in your throat worries you.

So why am I writing all this to you? Rest assured, not because I feel holier than thou. Years after giving up I still have to fend off the appeal of other people's delicious cigarette smoke wafting past my nose, but I still remember what a struggle it was to give up. There is such a thing as post-smoking contentment, I promise. Though it took me three goes.

Dear Reader, I now see you as a friend and I have a real concern for your pocket as your money pours out in torrents straight into Treasury's coffers. I confess however, I was also stopped in my tracks by the news that over 3,700 Australian women died of lung cancer in 2016. That is, in one year, my friend. Too many, far too many. Also lost lives can't be measured in terms of money, nor should be.

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About the Author

Judy Cannon is a journalist and writer, and occasional contributor to On Line Opinion. Her family biography, The Tytherleigh Tribe 1150-2014 and Its Remarkable In-Laws, was published in 2014 by Ryelands Publishing, Somerset, UK. Recently her first e-book, Time Traveller Woldy’s Diary 1200-2000, went up on Amazon Books website. Woldy, a time traveller, returns to the West Country in England from the 12th century to catch up with Tytherleigh descendants over the centuries, and searches for relatives in Australia, Canada, America and Africa.

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