Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cutting Into The Coughers

I smoke about a pack of cigarettes a day. I smoke too much.

(Some of you are probably saying to yourself that even ONE cigarette is too much. You know what, some of you? Shut up. I had to start this piece by saying something and we'll get to the point much more quickly if you'll just let me go on without comment. Thank you.)

I'm willing to quit. However, I need incentive.

(Oh, please, keep quiet! Yes, avoiding lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and complications during pregnancy are quite the incentive, yes. Well, maybe not the last one so much. But everybody knows about that stuff already and it hasn't stopped a whole bunch of us from puffing away madly. Do you want to hear my radical new plan that will GUARANTEE a whole bunch of us quitting? Or do you just want to tread over the same old ground again and again?)

The reason I need incentive is because I actually do enjoy smoking.

(Yeah, yeah, it's filthy and disgusting, ashes, stink, smell, nicotine stains, brown loogies, hack hack cough cough, bad breath, etc., and blah blah blah. What can I say? I enjoy it. De Gustibus Non Est Disputadum, as my grandfather used to say when he wanted to annoy the hell out of the self-righteous.)

Speaking of the self-righteous, here's the deal and about time, too. According to MassPirg - as self-righteous a bunch of prigs as you'd ever want to meet - the Commonwealth of Massachusetts loses $3.54 Billion a year in smoking-related health costs. Don't believe me? Well, don't believe them, if anything. Here's their very own press release on the subject - MassPirg press release.

(You’ll find the figure on the right side of the page. On the wrong side of the page, there are a whole bunch of statistics and hand-wringing and other stuff, but as soon as my plan goes into effect, all of that will become irrelevant. And remember, irrelevent never forgets.)

I assume that MassPirg expects this to be an ongoing cost to the Commonwealth, at least for a while. They certainly don't expect everybody to quit smoking today and have the state be rolling in the saved bucks tomorrow. Let's say that we can expect to be paying this amount for 20 years. I think that's a fair estimate, don’t you? Good. That would be a bit less than $71 Billion.

Now, before we go any further (or farther, or mother) we need to know just how many smokers there are in Massachusetts. Well, there are about 6.5 million people altogether in this state. According to MassPirg, 18.1% of them smoke. That would give us 1.17 million unhealthy inconsiderate filthy dying bastards who are costing us money.

(Here comes my proposal, so please pay attention. If you're a state rep, get your hand out of your constituent’s pockets and cup your ear with it, so you can hear me better. Thank you.)

I propose offering $35 Billion to the 1.17 million smokers as incentive for them to quit.

(Yes, it is brilliant. Thank you.)

That would be a payment of about $30,000 to each smoker in the Commonwealth. That would be if every smoker quit. Of course, not everybody will quit. Some people have no price, the principled sonsabitches. I do, though, and $30,000 might be it, as long as it also affords me the sight of seeing all of the holier-than-thou types wringing their hands and exclaiming, "We can't reward people for being unhealthy! Why should smokers get paid a bonus while those of us who have spent our lives chugging soy milk and eating railroad cars full of alfalfa sprouts get nothing?"

Well, I'll tell you why. Because you're the ones who want us to quit, that’s why. At least that's what you say. So put your money where your mouth is. Show us the cash and I'll show you a whole bunch of very happy born again non-smokers. Do you want it or not?

I’ll now answer a few objections to this plan.

1 – What about the people who are now receiving medical care courtesy of the state? Do we just cut them loose?

No. What we do is fund their treatments for the coming year as usual. This is a cost already assumed, so no loss. The “smokers bonus” will be contingent upon proof of at least one year of being tobacco-free, so no payments on that until at least next year. In the meantime, the state will give fair warning to all current smokers that they either accept the offered bonus, and begin quitting smoking within six months time, or they will be responsible for every penny of their future smoking-related health care costs.

Anyone who does quit smoking under the program, but still has the bad luck to have a health crisis down the road, one that can be proven as directly related to smoking, will be eligible for current levels of state aid. All others? Too bad. Go to some other sucker state and see if they’ll take care of you.

2 – OK, but where does the $35 Billion come from if the state is still absorbing some smoker-related expenses? Wouldn’t the figure be less and the payments to ex-smokers less also?

There will be some adjustments needed as the real numbers become available. Inflation would knock the number for 20 years up to more than $95 Billion, when all is said and done. I figure this amount from MassPirg's own math. This MassPirg press release from 2002 pegs the costs of healthcare at $2.7 Billion, so inflation seems to be a bit more than 20% every five years. Meanwhile, the actual number of smokers who do NOT quit will knock the cost down since they won’t be collecting squat, either from the state as a bonus or in health costs.

The health savings for the second 10 years of the 20 will easily pay for the one-time depletion of the treasury. I expect that, in reality, this will result in an amazing surplus for the state, not a deficit.

Also, a proviso could be written in that anybody who collects the bonus, but subsequently starts smoking again, will be subject to paying back the bonus with interest. That should help.

3 – What’s to stop someone from taking up smoking so that they can cash in?

When the plan is announced, the state will outlaw tobacco, period. If the legislature were serious about wanting people to stop, they’d do that anyway.

(I'll forego the usual rhetoric about how taxes on smoking support the jobs of so many people and some of them don't really want smoking to cease. I'm willing to work on the assumption that every member of the state legislature would probably really truly like to see fewer people smoking. I'll give the same benefit of the doubt to all of the others whose livelihood depends upon unhealthy people remaining unhealthy. In return, I hope they'll SERIOUSLY consider putting the money that flows into the state coffers from tobacco - $658 million a year, according to MassPirg - to its best use. And that would be, seriously, some version of the one-time payment I have just proposed. However, I digress. Sorry.)

Back to answering objection #3 - In addition, there would be restrictions placed upon people moving to Massachusetts. Nobody who currently smokes would be allowed to take residence. Ex-smokers would only be allowed in after they sign an agreement absolving Massachusetts from any and all costs that might be incurred in future due to their past smoking in other states. Anyone caught smoking in Massachusetts would be extradited, after paying a severe fine.

4 – The math is cute, Jim, but does it really work? It’s an amusing idea, but why don’t you stop kidding?

I’m not kidding. I may be joking, but I'm serious. That's what I often do here - make serious jokes.

There are math problems, no doubt. I’m not privy to every line item that’s considered in the figures given out by MassPirg. However, I’m sure the math can be worked out if there are enough people willing to seriously consider this proposal. I might be willing to settle for $25,000 instead of $30,000.

This is the best shot you have, state. No better way to spend the money, MassPirg. You can really get a boatload of smokers to quit RIGHT NOW.

So, uh, why don’t you take a few minutes to think about it? I want a smoke now, anyway. You can give me your answer when I get back.


Anonymous said...

Nice plan, but being Massachusetts... over 16 million people will sign up for the money and all claiming to be residents who forgot to get drivers lic., electric bills, failed to register to vote, etc. ec.. I know I will be one of them. Nice ploy though and worth a 4.3 on the 1 to 10 scale. :)

Meg said...

Hmmm. I might just be willing to start smoking, so that I can quit. Not sure I'd move back to Ma, though.

Hey, thanks for linking to GNMParents!



Sassy said...

Brilliant. I"m convinced. By the way, today I got the best word verification word ever:


Melinda said...

You have obviously spent a lot of time thinking this through - impressive financial deductions. I was doing the math to try and show you how much money you'd save just by not buying cigarettes anymore, but since it's only about $1800 a year (if your packs are around $5), I guess $30,000 is much more appealing.

$30,000 to quit smoking... I too would be tempted to start just so i could get in on that :)

Unknown said...

Brilliant idea Jim. Have you called your legislators?

Shrinky said...

I hate to tell you this Jim, but some county in Britain has stolen your idea as a pilot scheme - and it's got a fair amount of non-smoking tax-payer's with their knickers in a knot. (Hey, don't look at me, I'm lighting up as I type).

Here's the deal, the join a quit-smoking scheme run by the National Health Service. They meet up every week and take this "puff-test" that detects nicotine (or whatever other shit it is that smoking deposits - maybe it was cyanide - I forget). ANyhows, they all have a swipe card that credits them X amount of pounds a week which they can redeem for food in a supermarket.

It's not quite the fortune you suggested, but the results so far seems to indicate they are on to a sure fire winner (tho' I do wonder when the cut off point is, and if the then ex-smokers are forced to start puffing away again to qualify re-entry to the scheme..).

Suldog said...

That is so interesting! I was deadly serious about the idea, and I'm sure it would work. If some folks in Britain are willing to do it for groceries, then I imagine my scheme would be an amazing success. Thanks!