Archive for Thursday, February 1, 2007

Stopping smoking a healthy decision for your budget

February 1, 2007


When I sat down with Carl Chandler and his wife to help them get their finances straight for 2007, I had them create a budget.

I asked the couple, who are participating in The Color of Money Challenge, to list all the expenses they could eliminate. The Chandlers have agreed to follow my recommendations throughout the year in an effort to accomplish their New Year's resolutions of getting rid of credit card debt and building an emergency fund of at least three month's living expenses.

Most important, as part of this financial plan, I asked Carl Chandler to quit smoking.

Yes, in our discussion about their personal finances I got real personal. I asked this father of two young children if he had calculated the cost of smoking a pack of cigars every day.

"No, I never have," he said.

If the personal health benefits are not enough to motivate you to quit smoking, then perhaps the personal financial costs will.

Cigars or cigarettes can cost smokers as much as $2,500 a year, according to Saul Shiffman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. Chandler spent about $1,000 last year on his smoking habit.

What if he had saved that money?

If Chandler, who is 38, stopped smoking and invested that $1,000 every year in a 401(k), with a rate of return of 8 percent, he would have more than $100,000 by age 65.

Add in the extra medical expenses due to smoking and it hits your personal finances hard. Smokers essentially are burning money.

Shiffman, who develops behavior programs to help people quit smoking, said smokers often complained about the cost of smoking-cessation products. Chandler did.

But, as Shiffman points out, the treatment costs far less than the lifetime expense of smoking.

In fact, to get people to quit, GlaxoSmithKline is giving away $2.7 million worth of products. For details visit the Web site You can get either a two-week's supply of NicoDerm CQ patches or a week's supply of Nicorette gum or Commit lozenges.

The free products are just a start. Typically, the recommended course of treatment is 12 weeks if you use gum or lozenges and eight to 10 weeks for the patch, Shiffman said.

The company's Web site includes a number of free tools to help smokers quit.

Clearly this isn't a completely altruistic program for GlaxoSmithKline; the company is trying to sell its products. But government research has shown that sheer willpower in most cases is not enough to quit smoking.

The recommended approach to smoking cessation combines medication with counseling and coaching to give folks the best chance of quitting, according to Joel London, a spokesman with the CDC Office on Smoking and Health.

And there are a lot of free programs to help people quit. Check with your employee benefits office. The American Lung Association has a free online program at You can also contact 1-800-QUIT-NOW or for additional support.

Chandler, whose father smoked and then died at age 45 of a heart attack, already has cut back, in part because he began tracking his cigar expenses in a daily spending journal I asked him to keep.

"I always defended smoking cigars because it was cheaper than cigarettes. But I was just tricking myself," Chandler said. "After keeping the journal I do see the daily savings. Now my goal is to quit by March."

Perhaps we should require that tobacco companies put another warning label on the side of their products. It should say, "Smoking is hazardous to your wealth."


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