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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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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