Most people believe that smokers are a huge cost to the HSE, and indeed experts have speculated that the actual cost is somewhere between one billion and two billion euros. However, in the absence of hard figures for Ireland, these numbers have, until now, have been mere speculation, propaganda or outright lies.
By use of a policy of "Divide & Conquer", the anti-smoking movement has spent a lot of money to convince non-smokers that they are subsidising smokers because of their habit.
The tactic is to get two thirds of the population to resent the other one third. Those who instinctively dislike the traveling people are pre-disposed to believe that that community are costing them money, which fuels their hatred and offers them a rational reason for it.
In reality, here in Ireland, there is no official register of who smokes and who doesn't and hospitals do not keep a record either, never mind an HSE central register or database. So, there is no hard evidence of any above average illness among smokers. As a third of the population smoke, you might expect a third of those in hospital would be smokers also. And there is no condition exclusive to smokers, so who is to know what is smoking-related and what is not. If a smoker were to get lung cancer, can the oncologists state with certainty that it would not have happened had the patient never smoked? The answer is, no he could not, because it is impossible to isolate a single cause for most conditions.
So where do the health cost figures for smokers come from? I believe that they are made up for propaganda purposes in Ireland, so I looked elsewhere.
A research project for the NHS in the UK, carried out by Scarborough & Bhatnagar in 2011, and published in the "Public Health Oxford Journals", gives an accurate figure for the UK. Over there, smokers cost £3.3bn, or about €2.7bn in Euros.
Given that there are ten times more smokers in the UK than in the Republic of Ireland, it would be reasonable to believe that Irish smokers cost the HSE a tenth of the UK figure, or around €270 million a year. While this appears high on the surface, the combined Excise & VAT on tobacco products is €1,500 million a year. The UK study was funded by their Heart Foundation so you might expect the paymasters to prompt the researchers to ensure their numbers should be on the high side, but I was shocked at their results.
It would appear that smokers cost one sixth of what they contribute to the Irish economy. What brought all this to my attention was a consultation paper from our Department of Health. In it, they use this UK research project extensively in support of their arguments for preventative medicine.
What is truly telling, however, is the sneaky way they present the cost of smoking. According to their web page, "Estimates from the UK applied to Ireland surmise that the smoking cost was £3.3 billion". How's that for sleight of hand? Not only do they leave the amount in sterling, they put the full UK cost down and without actually saying so, they imply that this is the number for Ireland. And this is on a Dept. of Health consultation paper!
Other sources suggest a cost to industry of one million euros a day due to smokers' downtime. I have worked for forty years and never called in sick because of my cigarettes. Numbers like these are pure speculation but they have a nasty habit of turning into fact in the collective mind. So, I urge you, when in company with non-smokers, point out to them that you and over a million like you, are subsidising their families healthcare via your habit.