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The net effect of smoking on healthcare and welfare costs. A cohort study
  1. Jari Tiihonen1,2,3,
  2. Kimmo Ronkainen4,
  3. Aki Kangasharju5,
  4. Jussi Kauhanen4
  1. 1Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3Departments of Psychiatry and Forensic Psychiatry, University of Eastern Finland, Niuvanniemi Hospital and Kuopio University Hospital, Kuopio, Finland
  4. 4Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland
  5. 5Government Institute for Economic Research, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jari Tiihonen; jari.tiihonen{at} or jari.tiihonen{at}


Objective To study the net economic effect of smoking on society.

Design Prospective cohort study.

Setting Eastern Finland.

Patients We studied mortality, paid income and tobacco taxes, and the cumulative costs due to pensions and medical care among tobacco smoking and non-smoking individuals in a 27-year prospective cohort study of 1976 men from Eastern Finland. These individuals were 54–60 years old at the beginning of the follow-up.

Main outcome measures The net contribution of smoking versus non-smoking individuals to public finance balance (euros).

Results Smoking was associated with a greater mean annual healthcare cost of €1600 per living individual during follow-up. However, due to a shorter lifespan of 8.6 years, smokers’ mean total healthcare costs during the entire study period were actually €4700 lower than for non-smokers. For the same reason, each smoker missed 7.3 years (€126 850) of pension. Overall, smokers’ average net contribution to the public finance balance was €133 800 greater per individual compared with non-smokers. However, if each lost quality adjusted life year is considered to be worth €22 200, the net effect is reversed to be €70 200 (€71.600 when adjusted with propensity score) per individual in favour of non-smoking.

Conclusions Smoking was associated with a moderate decrease in healthcare costs, and a marked decrease in pension costs due to increased mortality. However, when a monetary value for life years lost was taken into account, the beneficial net effect of non-smoking to society was about €70 000 per individual.

  • Epidemiology
  • Health Economics

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