01/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Adding Up Tobacco's Toll On America

November is a good month to reconsider the cigarette. Not only is it National Lung Cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness month, but November 20th is the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, a day when smokers are encouraged to put down the pack, if only for the day. As someone who regularly encourages friends to think twice about lighting up, I know this isn't an easy proposition--nicotine is damn addictive and the tobacco industry, who strives to keep their products accessible and inexpensive, has the upper hand. Talking about lung cancer, COPD, or myriad health effects from tobacco often does little to dissuade my friends--or the 43.4 million adult smokers in the U.S.--from stepping out for a smoke.

And really, who cares if they do? It's a free country. Unfortunately, tobacco use puts an enormous toll on our society, and all of us, smokers or not, have to pay for it. While the public picks up the tab, the tobacco executives make out like bandits with their huge salaries, and distract the country with junk science and free Marlboro T-shirts.

So, although preventing young people from starting in the first place is the best protection against this, encouraging adults to quit is the next best thing. And since quitting smoking doesn't just benefit an individual's health--it benefits the whole society--there are some real costs of tobacco to keep in mind. Maybe they won't help someone stub the butt for good, but they just might get people thinking.

The True Cost of Tobacco
Though smokers pay the ultimate penalty with disease or death, we all absorb the cost of tobacco use, either directly, through taxes, or indirectly, through increased healthcare costs and economic losses.

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