News Tip: Secondhand Smoke Carries Large Financial Costs, Duke Professor Says

Study shows that more than 13 percent of the true cost of a pack of cigarettes is borne by smokers' families

In light of the surgeon general's recent report on secondhand smoke, it's clear that the smokers aren't the only ones who bear the cost of their habit, says a Duke University health policy researcher.

The true cost of each pack of cigarettes sold in the United States is $40, and smoker's families (spouses, children) bear more than 13 percent of that cost, says Donald Taylor, assistant professor of public policy studies and community and family medicine at Duke and co-author of the book, "The Price of Smoking."

"Children of smokers are the most vulnerable to the harms of secondhand smoke, and are likely to be consistently exposed to this harm," Taylor says.

The cost calculation takes into account the costs to society, broadly defined. The true cost of a pack of cigarettes was estimated by Taylor and his colleagues by identifying how smokers and their families compared to non-smokers and their families in areas such as illness, mortality, wages and payments such as Social Security and life insurance.

Although the majority of the cost -- $32.78 -- is borne by the smoker in shortened lifespan, lower wages and increased health care costs, Taylor found that families or households of the smoker pay $5.44. Society pays $1.44 of the cost, he said.

Unfortunately, while policies such as bans on smoking in public places address the effects of secondhand smoking on the general public, it is more difficult to imagine effective policies to protect household members from the same harms, Taylor said.

"Currently there are few policy options that seem feasible to reduce this harm outside of medical providers counseling smokers with children to quit."