The Price of That Vice

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by By Nancy Levenson /

KING5.com

Posted on July 1, 2009 at 10:42 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:52 PM

About the Author

Nancy Levenson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. Her work has been published online at and and in magazines such as Cottage Living and Northwest Homes and Gardens. She is also a contributor to theBest Places guidebooks.

"This year, I'm going to lose weight." "This year, I'm going to quit smoking." "This year, I'm going to spend less money."

According to a public opinion poll (Marist College end-of-year resolutions), those are the top three resolutions Americans made when they rang in 2009. But are they really three separate resolutions? The fact is, if you're carrying extra pounds or lighting up regularly, those things are putting a serious stress on your wallet. So you'll enjoy the built-in benefit of saving more of your dollars when you shed excess weight and kick that smelly tobacco habit.

Yes, the habits we call B-A-D for health reasons are also most definitely B-A-D for our personal economies. And the money doesn't just go to the fast-food restaurants and the big tobacco companies; it also goes into the health care system by way of medical bills and increased insurance premiums. 

If you smoke, you already know that your habit is expensive: The average price of a pack of cigarettes is $4.40. Puff through a pack a day and you're looking at a yearly cost of $1,600. Ouch. That's a couple of gym memberships, a nice mountain bike, or a Wii Fit and big screen TV. But the real question is, how much money are these habits costing you in health care dollars? Here are some examples of the ways that neglecting your health can affect your bottom line.

  • Based on one of our individual insurance products, the monthly premium for a policy with a $1,000 deductible for a 45-year-old nonsmoker is $339. The monthly premium for a 45-year-old smoker is $391 for the same coverage. That's around a 15 percent increase just for being a Marlboro man or Winston woman. Suddenly, smoking doesn't seem so cool anymore. Put another way, the smoker is spending approximately $625 per year more than the nonsmoker. Add that to the $1,600 you're shelling out for the cigarettes themselves, and you're looking at a total of $2,225 per year. And that doesn't even cover any out-of-pocket dollars you'll spend if, heaven forbid, you get sick from smoking. Bottom line: As a smoker, you are actually paying to be unhealthy.
  • Smokers are more likely to get diseases such as emphysema and cancer, which are costly in terms of money as well as in terms of physical and emotional pain. Smoking can also lead to cardiovascular problems, in addition to eye health issues such as glaucoma and cataracts.
  • Got tobacco-stained teeth? The cost of teeth whitening (around $1,000 per treatment for laser whitening) is frequently not an expense covered by insurance. What's more, if you smoke near your family members (especially indoors), the secondhand smoke can lead to health problems for them, further increasing your household's medical bills and insurance costs.

The High Cost of High Weight For folks packing a lot of extra pounds, the financial forecast is similarly grim. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overweight and obese individuals run the risk of the following diseases and conditions:

  • Heart disease  
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Breast, colon, endometrial cancer
  • Hypertension 
  • Stroke
  • Liver and gallbladder disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Respiratory problems
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Infertility and abnormal periods

Overweight patients may find that drastic measures such as bariatric surgery, which costs about $25,000, are usually not covered by insurance.

A few other unhealthy habits that could cost you:

  • Not taking care of your teeth & gums. Root canals, getting cavities filled, and treating gum disease are costly. If you pay 20 percent of a procedure such as crowns ($1,000 a pop) gum grafts (around $850) plus co-pays for must-have pain medications, the pain you're feeling will leave you holding your mouth as well as your pocket.
  • Not exercising. Sedentary people have an increased chance of getting heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. They also experience more injuries, and have a greater risk of visceral fat, which is associated with heart attacks, chronic heart failure, and high blood pressure. 
  • Not eating properly. Improper nutrition can lead to a variety of deficiencies such as rickets (vitamin d deficiency), scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), bone loss (calcium deficiency), and of course, weight gain (see above).
  • Not getting regular checkups. According to a February 2009 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 16 percent of respondents postponed surgery or a doctor's visit for chronic illness. But not getting regular care can increase the chance that a condition will worsen--or go undiagnosed. Either way, you end up paying more out of your own pocket.

So here's your challenge: Pick (at least) one habit to turn around, and then reap the benefits in your body, mind--and bank account.  

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