Youth Smokers Should Quit by 30

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This New York Times article describes academic evidence that lifetime tobacco smokers live an average 10 years fewer than nonsmokers; it also contains the following, to me shocking, paragraphs:

The study also found, however, that kicking the cigarette habit has equally dramatic effects. He found, for instance, that someone who stops smoking by age 30 has the same average life expectancy as a nonsmoker, and that someone who stops at 50 will lose four, rather than 10, years of life....

Doll and Peto said that while the harm of smoking is dramatic, so is the benefit from quitting. According to their findings, a person who stops smoking at 60 will have a life expectancy three years longer than someone who continues; a 40-year-old will have a life expectancy nine years longer; and a 30-year-old will have a life expectancy no different from that of a nonsmoker.

We've known that not every cigarette is harmful--each butt certainly does NOT take 11 minutes off your life.

To me, what this means is that the only longevity justification for preventing a youth from smoking is that the youth may not stop smoking in his 30s. Otherwise intervention must be justified on financial grounds, or (perhaps specious) quality of health grounds.

Hence, there are two plausible government policies, if you think government should get involved in private--not "public"--health matters: 1) stop kids from smoking, and 2) stop adults in their late 20's and early 30's from smoking. It seems to me that we don't know whether 1, 2, or a mix is the more effective or cost-effective method of aggregate life extension.

In fact, cost-benefit guidelines suggest that we try to keep as much benefit and eliminate as much cost as possible. We should focus government funds on reducing smoking where the marginal costs start to outweigh the marginal benefits. This means, if it were administratively possible, don't tax tabacco for teens, but ramp up the taxes prohibitively for those over 30, and target anti-smoking campaigns to that demographic. And who cares of tobacco companies target teens through Joe Camel adverts if kids can smoke without permanent harm, should they quit by 30?

Note: I don't smoke. Frankly, I don't see why I should. However, this article doesn't tell me why I shouldn't, at least for a few years, until I hit 30.

1 Comment

The reason you shouldn't smoke for even a few years is that you cannot be certain you will be ABLE to successfully quit by 30.


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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on June 23, 2004 1:30 PM.

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