Money College: Smoking burns a hole in your wallet

Money College smokingInhale... Finesse the filter on the tips of your fingers like a freshly-peeled grape... Now exhale and watch the plume twist and curl like outline of a nubile feminine figure...

Smoking is sexy.

No matter how you respond to that assertion, the majority of young people who initially reach for a cigarette do so thinking it will help their public image. Whether it was a "Sex in the City" character smoking Marlboro Lights, a film noir detective brooding in the shadows with his cig, Audrey Hepburn striking a pose, or a teenager rebelling against his or her parents, smoking cigarettes is a defining character trait.

And no one starts smoking to become addicted, nor do they pick the habit up because they want to get cancer. Nevertheless, approximately a third of college students smoke and if you were to count "social smokers," those who smoke at bars or other social settings with their friends, that percentage jumps to 50% in a 2009 study.

I too started out as a social smoker, but as much research has shown, social smoking soon leads to actual addiction. I found this out myself buying smokes on a regular basis, to enjoy on my own. I don't remember when I started buying cigarettes regularly, but I do remember when I found myself getting annoyed at all the cigarettes I was bumming to the "faux smokers".

About three weeks ago, I decided to quit smoking, mainly for monetary reasons but an also equally important reason: in case of an impending apocalypse, whether it be 2012, a fascist government take-over or zombies, I want to be healthy and fit enough to survive. All joking and choking aside, the idea that I was addicted to something so expensive, just to stabilize my mood, became a scary thought. I decided to quit cold turkey, because I refuse to give more money to corporations trying to profit off my addiction. You can read about my struggles here.

I too was one of those smokers who used nicotine as a crutch to handle difficult situations, and I find that my life after nicotine is slowly changing for the better. I haven't decided yet what to do with the money I save from not smoking, but I plan on doing something responsible with it. Almost as liberating as the better health will be the better bottom line for my finances.

When I first started smoking in college, the price of cigarettes was a meager $5 a pack. Today, that same pack of cigarettes costs $9. As the recession deepened, many states raised taxes to make up for budget deficits and one of the popular tax increases were levied on cigarettes.

The price of cigarettes in Chicago has risen exponentially in the last five years. The amount I smoked also increased in keeping with the rise in price. I went from a pack a week, to a pack every other day. So if I were to buy a pack every second day, I would be making a $9 purchase 14 times a month. This meant I was spending $126 -- or at least $1,500 a year -- on a non-necessity, something I clearly did not need.

If I smoked a pack a day, that would be $270 each month gone to waste. As it was at $1,512 a year, I could've instead saved for a vacation, a new laptop, or a 12-course meal at a 5-star restaurant. I could've redecorates my apartment, revamped my wardrobe -- or made two payments on my student loans.

Leigh Sauceda, a business and economics major at North Park University in Chicago smokes Parliament Lights, one of the more expensive brands at $9.80 a pack. Sauceda doesn't buy her cigarettes at shops in the city, opting instead to pick up cartons whenever she is in the suburbs. Cartons range from $35 to $50, and if a carton lasts her for a month and a half, she is still spending $280-$400 a year on a non-necessity. And let's not forget the price of gas or the time spent driving to procure these cartons. Is the saved $75 a month worth it? To Sauceda it is.

Besides the obvious monetary costs of purchasing the cigarettes, smoking is expensive when you add up the health costs (before one develops cancer). Jennifer Boltin, an education major at North Park University, admits that she gets sick more frequently and her illness lasts longer, because she is a smoker. "I end up missing more days at work, and yet I still smoke" says Boltin. "I could easily take the money I spend on smoking and pay for health insurance, but you know, there is nothing like an addiction" adds Boltin.

An Art History major at New York University who wishes to remain anonymous, was rushed to the ER after collapsing. She had been chain smoking while on birth control. Luckily, she did not have a blood clot, just a circulatory problem, but had she not been smoking she wouldn't have had to pay for any subsequent medical bills. And Matt Ellington, a music education major from South Suburban Community College in South Holland, Ill., keeps a pack of cigarettes in one pocket, and his asthmatic inhaler in the other pocket. "I've tried to stop, but they keep calling my name" says Ellington, adding that he smokes because it is a stress reliever.

Not that, uhm, asthma attacks are stressful.
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