Clement Freud, the former British Parliamentarian, and grandson of Sigmund Freud, said, “If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking, and loving, you don’t actually live longer; it just seems longer.”
Though a vice was originally considered something “immoral”, many now consider a vice to include any habitual excess. A daily cup of diner coffee likely wouldn’t qualify, but a fancy triple-shot latte probably would. This begs the question: Do our vices’ psychological and visceral benefits outweigh their financial costs? Are they really worth it?
The Center for Disease Control reports the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is $4.80. Assuming a pack-per-day smoking habit, this adds up to $1,752 over the course of a year. Even setting aside direct medical costs and lost productivity–which the CDC estimates is double the cost of the pack itself–that’s not a small amount of money.
Let’s assume our fictional smoker has a few other vices as well–that fancy coffee drink on work days ($4.50), two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon per week ($20), and a habit of treating himself to weekly blockbusters voiced by Don LaFontaine ($18 for tickets, popcorn and drink). Combined with his fuliginous vice, our straw man’s habits add up to over $5,000 a year.
If everyone quit smoking tomorrow, public health would benefit. A devilish question, but how would the economy be affected? While smoking’s medical and lost productivity costs are enormous, the jobs and taxes generated by the tobacco industry are considerable. Americans spend $80 billion each year on cigarettes alone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that almost 200,000 people work in beverage and tobacco manufacturing, earning approximately $40,000 a year on average.
Though these figures include some employees who are involved in producing non-alcoholic beverages, they don’t include related service industries that represent the over 110,000 people employed as bartenders, waiters, and waitresses. Imbibers’ concerns aside, these workers would surely miss the tips associated with serving alcohol. Without vices, what happens to those who hold these jobs?
If we buy an expensive coffee drink every day, do we enjoy it more than a good cup of coffee brewed at home? By definition, behaviors that grow habitual tend to bring us less and less pleasure over time. But things that bring us genuine satisfaction should not be ignored. Perhaps our fictional movie buff quits smoking but realizes his weekly visit to the cinema boosts his mood all week. According to a study by Kansas State University,unhappy employees could cost a workplace as much as $75 per person per week.
Cutting out vices entirely would save our friend $5,000 per year, but few believe that our working lives should be spent toiling without pleasure. It’s important to ensure we have enough for emergencies, and that we are all saving for tomorrow. But once our basic needs are met, it’s up to each of us–with the help of sound financial advice–to find a healthy balance between instant gratification, sensible future plans, and perhaps the odd vice, or two. Clement Freud wouldn’t disagree.
Kit O'Connell is a writer, editor and citizen journalist living in Austin, Texas.
The illustration by M.K. Perker for Simple Finance Technology Corp. is available through Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd 3.0).
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