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Better Dead

By Wayne Grytting

AFTER DECADES of sticking their heads in the sand about the hazards of tobacco, Philip Morris has found a new tactic--promoting the benefits to society of premature deaths from smoking. A study produced for them by Arthur D. Little, one of the "foremost management consulting firms," found the early death of a smoker has "positive effects" for society that more than counteract the medical costs of treating smoking- induced cancer, etc.

This path-breaking research was limited to smoking in Czechoslovakia. It found that in 1999, despite health-care costs for dying smokers, the government still had a net gain of $147.1 million from smoking. Thus, the American Legacy Foundation calculated the Czech government saved $1,227 per dead smoker.

Philip Morris has since come in for a flood of criticism and has publicly apologized for the conclusions, which is too bad, because the report makes fascinating reading. It is, as the authors state, "the results of the exercise of our best professional judgement."

Not only did the researchers find out precisely how much early deaths save on health-care expenses, housing for the elderly, social security, and pensions, they also uncovered savings from premature deaths in areas we nonexperts would never dream to look. Who would think to look at the effect of smoking deaths on unemployment? But these authors found that "replacing those who die early . . . leads to savings in social benefits paid to the unemployed and in costs of re-training."

A wonderful gift to society by smokers.

But it gets even better. The researchers, with obvious relish, note that when a smoker dies prematurely, the savings to the state for that year "is only one part of the positive effect." You need to look at all the other years the smoker would have lived had she or he not smoked, because, we are told, "the savings will therefore influence the public finance balance of smoking in future years(!)" It's a gift that keeps on giving.

Lest you think that Philip Morris is alone in recognizing the benefits to society of early deaths, know that it is in good company. Four years ago, the the attorney general of Alabama arrived at similar conclusions. And State Farm Insurance recently followed the same line in a study defending SUVs. Their researchers reported: "Sport utility vehicles may actually save insurers money in a few accidents, by killing people who might otherwise have survived with serious injuries. Severe injuries tend to produce larger settlements than deaths."

Sounds like public thanks are owed to SUV makers, too. Obviously, great minds work in the same circles.

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From the August 23-29, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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