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Myth 2

Colin Grainger
3 December 2006

'Smokers are a drain on the NHS'



Let’s start with the basics, in this case, incoming versus outgoing. There are as many figures doing the rounds on this subject as there are figures for mythical SHS deaths. I intend to use the figures quoted in the House of Commons on 14th February 2006 during the Commons debate, and subsequent vote on the Smoker Ban portion of the Health Bill 2006. You are welcome to check the Hansard link shown below for the numbers quoted.

The MP, Mr Laurence Robertson, said, “Smoking-related diseases cost the NHS £1.8 billion per year. That is a fair amount, but rather insignificant when compared with the £8.1 billion that smokers put into the Exchequer every year. That explains the Government's hypocrisy in refusing to ban smoking entirely—it is due to money”. I listened hard for any dissenters, any single MP or Party that disputed these words, and the silence was deafening. Silence, they say, gives consent. So we can assume that the numbers are there or thereabouts.

You may hear anti smokers say that “smokers take more time off work than non smokers due to sickness”. Well, I have looked and looked but I cannot find any reliable studies on this. This was a little surprising to me if this “smoking related sickness” was as endemic as the anti smokers say. I can tell you, anecdotally at least, that non smokers are by far the worst abusers of taking “sickies” than any smoker I ever worked with. I worked with one chap for almost ten years, and I rarely saw him put in a five day week. Eventually he was made redundant during a shake up, and he lost “points” for taking so much time off. Needless to say, he was a non smoker.

I also saw many, many smokers working harder, longer hours than non smokers, and I attribute that to the smoke breaks we took during the day. Although they were legitimate breaks, smokers felt that they needed to make up the time long after the other, non smoking staff, had left for the day. I would often just take fifteen minutes for lunch and “spend” the other 45 minutes taking smoke breaks during the day. I explained this to my MD when he had received a complaint about me being “constantly” outside, smoking. He was happy with my explanation, and he said that he had checked the secure entry system and confirmed that I was in the top three for “hours on site”. He laughed and said that “the other two are also smokers”. Vindication was never so sweet……

Consider those numbers for a moment. We smokers generate enough revenue to design, build, equip, staff, and maintain TEN new hospitals per year. With enough left over to pay for our treatment. That would do away with the “We refuse to treat smokers” argument, would it not? I guarantee you will never hear these words from an anti smoker.

Like non smokers, we smokers also need a great chunk of NHS resources when we reach old age. Most of us use the NHS more in the last six months of our lives, than at any other time. It is important to note that non smokers also use this “final six months” and that they have contributed far less than smokers have. Conservatively, it is estimated that smokers contribute 4.7 times MORE than non smokers. Is it really important then, the illness one or the other is suffering from in their final days? I think not. As with any aspect of the “Fight against Smokers”, the hypocrisy concerning the costs to the NHS, is staggering to normal, free-thinking human beings.

This myth, therefore, is well and truly BUSTED.

My source for the numbers used is:
UK Parliament
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