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Giving up smoking

Money and smoking

By any measure, regular smoking can cost a lot. For example, smoking 20 cigarettes a day over the course of a year would, in 2018, cost a smoker in the UK about £3000, depending on the brand. In practice the amount people we spoke to spent on cigarettes varied – and it was much cheaper if people smoked ‘roll-ups’ or ‘rollies’, loose tobacco rolled in papers. For some money they spent on cigarettes was important in the decision to cut down or stop, while others thought they would always have prioritised spending money on cigarettes.

Smoking more and smoking less

As we discussed in ‘Friends, parents and first cigarettes’ younger teenagers rarely bought their first few cigarettes – those whose parents smoked often stole them to smoke alone or share with friends. Many who smoked as teenagers or as students started buying cigarettes regularly when they started a part time or full time job. As their disposable income increased some people changed to a more expensive brand, or smoked branded cigarettes rather than roll-ups. Haseen said that when he had some ‘money in his pocket’ during his time in India, he became brand-conscious and smoked an imported brand.
 

When Keith first started work, he could afford to smoke more. Even when he had a young family and was worse off, he still smoked.

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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It certainly increased and certainly since I had more disposable income and went out when I was a little older 17, 18. I had two years after school, after doing ‘A’ levels when I didn’t take on further education. I earned quite a lot, relatively a lot of money then, so it was great, so a lot of disposal income and I smoked more or less you know, straight through that time really. I could afford to do so. So I suppose that enabled me to do it looking back. Yes.

And when would you smoke mainly when you were sort of in your late teens?

Late teens. I think socially again. The two years I had I could smoke during work, it was possible to smoke during work in those days, and in public places and I had all sorts of jobs. All sorts of, I worked in labouring and, and delivering bread and lorry driving, or lorry drivers mates really. All sorts of, I needed time away from institutions really. And I was very well paid for doing it. I was relatively well off, so smoked most of the time I think.

And would the amount you earned affect the amount you smoked?

Well if I hadn’t have got the money, I wouldn’t have been able to smoke as many I did, yes, that’s, that’s certainly been a factor. Although when I was first married and bringing up my family, we were pretty hard up then to start with and I still carried on smoking. Probably not as much but still carried on smoking.

And did you …

So it was quite sorry to interrupt….

No.

But it just goes to show what a powerful. It’s totally illogical isn’t it, to smoke is totally illogical? But it’s such a powerful force that it overcomes all of the internal blocks and checks that you have. And you end up rationalising something illogical to yourself and you know that it doesn’t make sense.
 

Chris’s family had little money when she was growing up, so only when she earned her own money could she afford to smoke more.

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
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Money was very scarce. My Mum and Dad, they worked hard, and we didn’t have a lot of money, sort of, you know, you’d pinch one out of the packet and hope they don’t notice. And then perhaps two or three a week if you’re lucky. But that was about it, and you sort of started work and you buy it, you start buying them. And that’s you’re hooked then.

So when did you start work?

Well I was 14 when I started work. I left school when I was 14 and I was a telephonist. So yes, I did. So, but it was sort of in the summer holidays before I actually left school, that we mustn’t, well when he got me smoking and we used do it regularly me and my brother [laughs], share a cigarette.

So it was mainly with your brother, rather than…?

Yes, yes.

Okay.

Yes mainly with my brother. I had a younger brother then, but we wouldn’t let him do it, because he was too young. We thought we were the oldest. So…

And tell me about smoking when you started working?

I didn’t earn a lot of money when I first started working. Obviously I used to give my Mum half of it. It was about £4.50 a week. But then, I just sort of buy, mainly when I went out, you know, we’d go out with friends and I’d buy a packet of cigarettes. Probably only ten, you know, but that was it. Then you get mixing with people that are smoking already and it just escalates from there. The more you earn, the more cigarettes you buy. It’s as simple as that. You know, to us smoking what 20, 30 a day. And that was it.
 

When Laura was at school, she had two part-time jobs and this helped her to afford to smoke 20 cigarettes a day.

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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I was smoking every day. There was quite a lot of down time at school, well there probably wasn’t, but I had a lot of down time at school. I wasn’t a skiver but perhaps I wasn’t in all the lessons. I’m not too sure. But yes, there was a place where you would walk to that was in the village where the school was and everyone would congregate there.

So yes, it was, and I had a job then as well so I could afford to smoke. It wasn’t an issue. I’d got two jobs part time. So, that was probably the main thing, having the cash to spend on it. That helps [laughs].

And was it something you sort of did very consciously, you know, as you sort of smoked more and more, were you noticing that or… how would you describe it?

I didn’t. No, it wasn’t deliberate and I didn’t really notice it until I was buying a ten packet a day, which was my normal for quite a long time. I can’t remember when that happened, but I can remember then having, for a while to go and…. I’d buy ten, they’d go, then buy another ten and then thinking it would be easier to buy twenty and when I realised that, I thought, oh my God, I’m smoking twenty a day. That’s a lot. But it didn’t stop me.

And I got, because I was a poor student at the end of the day. I was still at school full time, but I did have these two jobs. And once I got a car my car was always full of cigarette packets and if I ever ran out of cigarettes I could rummage around opening them all and I’d always find some. So I wasn’t that careful about finishing the packets either. I just. And I was go to person if anyone wanted cigarettes and I had them. So yes. I don’t know. It’s just the money again I guess [laughs].
Over the course of her ‘smoking career’ Sue went from smoking expensive French cigarettes to rollies (hand-rolled tobacco). People who had started smoking in the UK in the 1950s or 1960s talked about how cheap cigarettes used to be compared to now, and Gareth recalled buying them individually in sweet shops as a whole packet cost too much. People like Carol, Rukmini or Haseen, who didn’t grow up in the UK, remembered how much cheaper cigarettes were in South Africa and India. Tobacco is still more heavily taxed in the UK than most other countries and many smokers stock up on duty free cigarettes when they can. As a teenager Anna bought cheap tobacco in Germany that she sold on to friends at boarding school. Jules and Angela talked about spending their pocket money on cigarettes, and quite a lot of Miles’s student grant used to go on cigarettes.
 

When she was buying a pack every day Cassie didn’t notice how much she was spending on cigarettes, but now she realises how much money she has wasted on cigarettes.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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But you know, I get very angry when other people ask me for my cigarettes, because I think buy your own they’re mine. You know. So I think maybe that’s the psychological thing, the need to keep hold of them so that I can carry on smoking, and I think, if I had like £5 left and that’ all I had till the next month or until next year, I would spend it on cigarettes rather than anything else. And if someone gave me the choice between food and cigarettes, may be not now, but before, I would have chosen cigarettes. Which is quite drastic.

And how’s it been with money and cigarettes?

Fine. Cigarettes do eat up your money very quickly. But I think, you know, because you’re buying them, if you, if you smoke a pack of 20 cigarettes. I don’t what the average price is - £6? Then you’re buying them every day if you’re quite a heavy smoker, so you don’t really notice your money going down, and you get so used to it, you don’t notice your money going down, but as, as I’m trying to quit, every time I do go buy it, you know, I don’t want to buy it because of the price now. I’m really bothered about the money I’m spending. It’s such a waste and I could, could spend it on something else. But before when I was regularly smoking all the time and not concerned about quitting the money didn’t even bother me. You know, as long as it’s there, it’s there to spend. So… it so much seemed worthwhile.
 

Living in a University hostel in New Delhi, Rukmini used to spend about a third of her limited income on cigarettes.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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It was something that everybody else was smoking around me and I guess, you know, it was also economically very cheap to smoke those cigarettes to smoking anything else, because we were students and living on very little.

So how much would cigarettes take up of your income?

I didn’t have an income. I was living on stuff. I was living on money sent to me from home, and I was doing a bit of tuition there, therefore I wouldn’t really call that income. I don’t know. It was about, I would say it was ten to twelve pounds a month which was a substantial amount of what I used to spend in a month at that particular point of time. I wouldn’t say it was everything. I think a third of what I had. You know, but it was about 1200 rupees which was about yes, roughly about £10 - £10-12. But yes. Which I know is nothing as compared to, you know, how much you can smoke here for £10-12 is nothing, but it was quite a substantial amount for me at that particular point of time.

And did that feel like a decision to spend that? Did it…?

It never felt like it was a decision, it just was something that everybody else around me did and I just did it, you know, and I didn’t really, there wasn’t like a conscious decision, but I thought that I will spend only this much, I wouldn’t spend that much. Just that, you know, people just smoked cigarettes. If you didn’t have money to buy cigarettes, you smoked cigarettes from somebody else. And you just smoked.

I think with that kind of communal living you know, it was pretty shared. So if you didn’t have many to buy cigarettes your friends would give you cigarettes you know.
 

Sue smoked at the time her daughter was at university and money was tight. Her friends would always give her cigarettes when she was short.

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
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I thought its bad and horrible it smells isn’t it. So it’s crazy. It does make you sound really as though you know you’re a bit nuts. Do you know what I mean. So why did I do?

So what seems strange about it now when you look back?

What seems strange?

You know, you said you feel it was a bit nuts.

Well like I said before, I knew it was bad, smelling horrible, and it cost me money which I didn’t really have. It’s only recently that I’ve actually got to a stage in my life where I don’t have to worry about, you know, if the car goes wrong and things like that. Whereas at that time, if anything went wrong it was a major issue for me. With both children at university, we were getting some help with that but, you know, I was still supporting them and yes, wasting money on cigarettes wasn’t clever.

But I had a lot of really nice friends who we would supply me [laughs]. You know, with all the people that I went out with, they would just go, “It doesn’t matter you know.” The funny thing was they’d moan about some people. They’d moan about men, because blokes don’t make men scroungers, but with women it was oh you can have one, is fine.
Val wondered how she ever afforded to spend £15 a day on cigarettes, and now she couldn’t manage to smoke on a pension. Carol said that it didn’t matter how much money she had, she always made sure she had cigarette money. However she remembered feeling shocked when she calculated how much money she spent in a year on cigarettes. One thing people did mention was the social aspect of sharing cigarettes. When cigarettes were cheap, and smoking was widespread, it was considered good manners to offer a pack of cigarettes around a group. Some people like Sue remembered that people used to ask to have her expensive French cigarettes all the time. Others like Rukmini, Laura and Abdul had fond memories of sharing cigarettes amongst friends, even when they couldn’t afford them. Cassie and others pointed out that it was now inappropriate to ask for a cigarette from someone else.

NHS stop smoking services are provided free but people who preferred to use private treatment (for example hypnotherapy) were sometimes very conscious that the investment in treatment needed to pay off.

Is saving money a reason to quit?

Whilst some people prioritised the money they spent on cigarettes above many other things, others, when they realised the expense, or had other expenses such as having a family, resented how much it cost. At a population level, there are clear links between increases in the tax on cigarettes and the number of people who give up (or do not start)
 

One reason why Andy started to think about giving up smoking was that it cost too much.

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
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It was the time I thought to myself, oh do you know what, it’s time I just boot this in, in the head. I don’t want to do this anymore.

I mean there were other reasons as well. I mean I think I knew deep down it was getting to the point where it was actually getting too expensive. I think it was getting to the point where they were just about to go to £5 a pack. And I think at some point I sat down and calculated how much it was costing me a month and I looked at how much I was, because I was struggling a little bit at the time with money, and I was thinking, God if I packed in smoking, I’d have ‘x’ amount of money extra a month so I could, those nights I had to stay in, I’d be able to go out. Or you know, you know, the old, the old chestnut, you know, if you give up smoking put the money aside and get yourself something nice. I thought, you know, I could save up and get, I don’t know, an iPod or something like that, back then. And, then I looked at it, and I thought God almighty how much is this costing me, and that coupled with the fact that I wasn’t really enjoying it any more. I was just going through the process of doing it, I think was enough to, to, you know, for me just to kick it in the head.
Rukmini couldn’t afford cigarettes when she moved to the UK, and price rises in the 90s made people like Jules think twice about smoking. Sue and Munir said that, although money was important, they stopped smoking for other reasons.

Although he had saved money towards a deposit for a house, Andrew didn’t think that in his experience money alone was a good enough reason to quit smoking.
 
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Blodwen helped people with alcohol problems become aware of what they were spending. Calculating how much she spent on cigarettes gave her an incentive to quit. [TEXT ONLY]

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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And then of course, you know, the cost. Because, it’s strange, you know, I’ve thought about this, and like with work with the alcohol, and you know, people keeping diaries and stuff like this and you add the cost column and that’s the one that makes the biggest difference of all. That people realise, my God. Did I spend that much on cigarettes? Did I spend that much on drink? And then of course, you know, it gives you that bit of an oomph then to, to sort of, you know, continue as, as you have been really. But yes. So I’m not much of case history to be honest with you.

Well tell me about that, when did you notice at the time? Did you only notice it afterwards? How did it work?

I noticed it at the time, yes, I have, you know, I definitely am able to save and, and I’m a lot more sort of conscious of it now, you know, I…What I noticed initially was how much more money I had in my purse at the end of the week, whereas you know, maybe it would have gone on cigarettes. I’d think oh I’ve still got that twenty pounds. It’s in my purse. So of course, you know, you think oh yes, you know, so that can go towards a holiday, that can go towards some new clothes or, or whatever isn’t it? So yes, that was the real incentive for me.
 

Roger was diagnosed with a serious lung condition and also didn’t want to give his money to tobacco companies any more.

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Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
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Well people have said to me, “Oh, how much… I bet you’ve saved a fortune, haven’t you?” Well, for me, from what I’ve said obviously, saving money was the least of my concerns. That didn’t have a part to play in it at all. There was a, there was a social conscience reason if you like as well, because I suddenly realised, when I found out I’d got chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, even though it was only low grade if you like, I suddenly realised that every time I went into the tobacconist, I was giving him money. He was making money out of me making myself ill. But that’s beside the point, what was more important to me was, that there are huge multinational, global tobacco corporations who are making money out of us smokers. Because they’d been banned from advertising in Britain and in Western countries, they’re now centring their attention on China and some of the developing countries, where there aren’t restrictions on advertising to the same degree. And I just thought to myself, ‘why am I giving these bastards my money when, if I die, it’s an irrelevance to them,’ because there’s another generation coming along and there’s always foreigners who they can get hooked on the habit anyway. And they can still make their millions, and I thought ‘enough, you’ve had enough of my money. I don’t want to give you any more,’ and that was another factor. It wasn’t because ‘ooh I’d have quids in the bank,’ it was because I didn’t want to give these murdering bastards any more of my money. And think of that when you smoke your cigarettes.
Despite smoking for many years Sue had always been concerned that she was putting money into the pockets of the tobacco companies who she sees as “very cynical organisations. Because for years they’ve tried to buy expert opinion that says that smoking’s not harmful.”

After you’ve quit

Some people didn’t notice much difference in the amount of money they had after they’d quit, but others had ingenious strategies for saving the money they would have spent on cigarettes and using it in other ways. Khan could spend the money on clothes, his family or other things he enjoyed, Munir noticed that he had more cash in his wallet at the end of the week. Peter had an app on his phone called ‘Since iQuit’ which showed him how much money he had saved as time passed.
 

To motivate herself, Sarah made a money box to save all the money she would have spent on cigarettes in order to spend it on something special in the future.

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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But to prevent, I guess whilst exploring my own ambivalence, I got creative. I’m a little bit of a creative person and I made a paper mache money box out there and that money box, and I will be checking it’s still there when you leave [laughs], that money box doesn’t take coins. It only takes notes, because I couldn’t buy a packet of cigarettes with a coin. And every other day I put a note in there, and that to me is okay. Once it’s in there I can’t get it out. So I can’t delve in to go and buy some cigarettes. So I’m committing my cigarette money to its destination once it’s in there because I can’t get it out and, and I think that making that was a hands on process for me. It was a really fun creative process for me, and I made it with a reason. I was still smoking when I was making that, but I was making that with a purpose and as I made it the purpose grew and I actually then became quite excited about stopping smoking. Rather than being ambivalent I was quite excited about how I was going to use my money box. Which sounds completely crazy now. But how I was going to use my money box and what I was going to do with, you know, at the end of it.

What are your thoughts?

What I’m going to do at the end of it. Do you know what I don’t really know now. Oh there’s loads of things I want to do. There’s loads of things I want to do. I want to get my bathroom tiled. I want to do this and I want to do that. But right now, I, it’s funny when I was doing it, it was things like I wanted to go to New York for my birthday. But I think the other flip side is, you know, with my Mum not being very well, actually the littlest things in life have been so much so. You know, right now, actually I don’t want to go across the other side of the world, even if it is for a weekend. I want to be nearby to home. So, you know, I guess it’s just, I want to buy my Mum a big bunch of flowers when I want, instead of buying a packet of cigarettes. And whatever it may be, I want to be able to, to share stuff. You know, to, to, to not have to say no to an opportunity because I can’t afford it. And to know that I can, even if I have to smash my money box [laughs].
 

Raf couldn’t afford to smoke once he had more family responsibilities, and now he has quit he has saved around £60 a week.

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
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And but eventually, as time went by, when I suppose, it’s a case of when more responsibilities kick in, that’s when you actually start feeling it in your wallet. How much of a dent it’s actually making.

So what were the responsibilities that kicked in?

Just family, family responsibilities, you know, like having to pay your own way at home and that kind of thing, and then when I got married and as time’s gone by, obviously responsibilities they just increase. They never decrease and it’s just been getting harder and harder and harder as time’s been going by. And I mean no matter how much money you’re actually earning, you still do feel what’s going out of your pocket, and especially to things like cigarettes and what have you.

So have you noticed the difference in the last nine weeks at all?

Yes. I’m saving on average I’d say about £60 a week. And whereas before, that £60 a week, no matter what I’d need it for, it’d go on cigarettes. Whereas now obviously I can put that money elsewhere, and get something for the kids, or whatever else I need to go out and buy, I’ve got that spare money there, sat there waiting to be used. Whereas before it would just be cigarettes only.

And are you keeping it sort of separate or does it just get absorbed?

No, not separate as such. But it’s just the fact that knowing that I’ve got that extra money there, I can actually go out and whatever else I need to get, I can comfortably go out and get it. Whereas before, no matter how urgently I needed something, I wouldn’t buy it for the sake of that money being spent on the cigarettes.
 

Laura stopped drinking red wine at the same time she quit smoking, and used the money she had saved to pay for a gym membership and to get her teeth whitened.

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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When I quit smoking and drinking red wine and coffee and all the other bad things, and I’d split up with my boyfriend and I was going to the gym and life was great and I just thought I was saving so much money and I could go to the gym and I can buy the best membership I want and I can afford it because I don’t smoke, what else can I do. And I thought, yes, I’m going to get my teeth sorted out because they were a horrible colour from all of that terrible stuff I was drinking and smoking and I spent about £300 getting them whitened at the dentist. And it was brilliant. It was such a… He told me the price and I thought what? And then I thought I’d spend much more than that on cigarettes I can do that. That’s fine. And I got it done and it’s lasting through and that was a really nice permanent physical thing to do to myself to say I’m not going to smoke any because I’ve just spent £300 getting my teeth cleaned. I’m not, I’m not going to ruin that with a cigarette. That was quite a good final seal the deal kind of thing for me. I liked it.
Looking back, Val realised that she had probably worked until age 66 because she “couldn’t afford the lifestyle that I had on a pension…. But thinking back, I think it was probably because the money I needed for smoking, not bills”.

(Also see ‘Complementary approaches to quitting’)

Last reviewed August 2018.
Last updated August 2018.
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