A study commissioned by Philip Morris in the Czech Republic found that a cigarette-smoking public, far from being a drag on public funds, was actually a boon to government coffers to the tune of 5.815 billion Czech korunas, or about $147 million.
Most of the money came from tax revenue. But between $24 and $30 million of those savings came from the reality that anti-smoking advocates in the U.S. (and the lawyers that work for them) don't talk about much that the shortened life of the average smoker saves the government money on things like health care, pension and public housing.
This, of course, is what anti-anti-smoking contrarians in the U.S. have been whispering for years: to the government, Big Tobacco is half scapegoat, half cash cow.
The government taxes cigarettes at exorbitant rates because higher per-pack costs affect teen smoking and "sin" taxes go down easy with the public. It's a regressive tax, since smokers are statistically lower-income types. Yet nobody complains not even Republicans, who hate tax cuts and take big contributions from Big Tobacco because all politicians must be anti-teen-smoking. And all politicians love money.
Then there's that little matter of the 25-year, $206 billion settlement that the four largest tobacco firms reached with 46 states in 1998. The states were suing to recoup the Medicare dollars spent on ailing smokers. But what if smokers had been actually saving them money over the years by dying young?
At some point during the negotiations, Philip Morris must have been tempted to commission a similar study in the U.S. but of course this sort of calculation can be seen as a little on the callous side. Big Tobacco knows that while its image may never sparkle, it can always get worse. And while the government may talk about putting Big Tobacco out of business, it'll never happen.
As long as the feds keep getting their piece of the action.