Study Estimates Smoking Costs About $119,000

The average West Virginia smoker should expect to spend nearly $119,000 to support that habit over the next three decades, according to a new study.

The Health Statistics Center at the state Department of Health and Human Resources released a study Thursday detailing how much the average West Virginia smoker could spend on online cigarettes over a lifetime.

It found that between 1980 and 2009, the average smoker, who consumes one and a half packs per day, spent about $31,000 on cigarettes. In 2009 alone, that smoker spent $2,121.

Over the next 30 years, the average smoker will spend about $119,000 on cheap smokes - roughly equivalent to the cost of buying a small house.

Officials are hoping sticker shock inspires some to consider kicking the habit.

"We know that this is a horrible addiction - it's the hardest addiction in the world to break," said Bruce Adkins, director of the state Division of cheap cigarettes Prevention.

"But one of the things that we know that drives people to quit is the cost - especially in today's health and economic environment."

West Virginia has the second highest rate of adult smoking cigarettes among the 50 states.

Nearly 366,000 adult West Virginians smoke cigarettes - about 25.6 percent of the adult population. In 2009 alone, those smokers bought about 210 million packs of cigarettes.

The study does not include the estimated 23,400 children under the age of 18 who smoke.

While cheap cigarettes usage is expected to drop over the next three decades, prices are not.

The average price of a pack of cheap cigarettes has risen steadily over the years - from 64 cents in 1980 to $3.70 in 2009 - driven by inflation and rising taxes.

If current trends continue as expected, a pack could set the average smoker back by $14.82 by 2039 - a conservative projection, according to the study.

By then, smokers could expect to spend more than $8,100 a year if they continued the pack-and-a-half-per-day habit.

Adkins said he hoped putting it in terms of dollars and cents would open the eyes of many adults who have yet to be swayed by the traditional health arguments.

"We've got unfortunately some of the worst health issues to deal with in the country," he said. "We've made great headway with our kids, and now this is a different approach to help our adults quit and hopefully get that section of the population healthy as well."

Getting adults off discount cigarettes could have a trickle-down effect through their households and the rest of the economy, Adkins said.

"If they've got an extra $600 to $1000 that they can spend on other things that household needs, not only will that household have extra money, but they'll also be healthier," he said.

"And hopefully they'll be able to spend the money they spent on cigarettes on better foods, medicines they need or health care."

A 2009 report from the Division of cheap cigarettes Prevention estimated that 3,785 West Virginians were dying each year from smoking cigarettes-related illnesses.

The division also estimates that the state racks up about $1.3 billion in health care costs related to smoking cigarettes each year.

And a lot of those costs are for people on public assistance programs like Medicaid.

"People of lower economic status and people of lower education definitely smoke cigarettes and use cigarettes at a higher rate," Adkins said.

"If we could get half of the people on Medicaid to quit using cigarettes, then we probably could keep a lot of people healthier and off the Medicaid books by this one particular intervention."

He also said those who decide to quit are more open to other healthy habits, such as better diets and exercise.

"If you can teach one healthy behavior, it's easier to teach them another," Adkins said.

The latest study also calculated what average smokers would make if they invested their money rather than spend it on cigarettes.

Using a conservative 6 percent interest rate, a smoker would have about $64,000 in the bank today if they had invested their cigarette money over the past 30 years.

At 8 percent interest, the total would have hit $85,000.

Looking ahead, a smoker could have $261,000 by 2039 if they chose to invest and got a 6 percent rate of return rather than buy cigarettes. The figure would be $355,000 if they received an 8 percent return.

"If nothing else, this should point out to the average smoker in West Virginia that if they quit, there's a whole lot of ways they can spend the money," Adkins said.

"Even though they are horribly addicted to them, this should really resonate with them to think, 'Man, if I quit, think of how much I can save.'"