Saturday, July 20, 2013

Former Smokers Earn More. Know Why?

Former smokers have better-paying jobs than smokers and even workers who never smoked. This surprising fact emerged from the U.S. Census Bureau survey over the period 1992 to 2011 which was funded by the Tobacco Use Supplement. How can this be?

The fact is that smokers get paid on average 20% less, presumably because they are worth less. There is no evidence that smoking as such interferes with work performance. In fact, the nicotine in cigarettes is a mental stimulant and there is plenty of scientific research evidence that it enhances brain function. So what does that suggest?

Non-smokers and former smokers, the survey found, tend to have more education than smokers. They are also more likely to have non-smoking spouses. So, now we have another question: why do non-smokers have more education?

One of the economists who conducted the study, Melinda Pitts, offered this explanation: “It takes a special person to quit an addictive behavior.” I would add that nicotine is one of the most powerful addictive substances known, and it takes enormous will power to quit, even with today’s modern medical treatments. People who can quit a smoking addiction either have a better initial level of self-discipline than others that enables them to quit, or they develop it in the process of succeeding at quitting. The evidence for acquiring more discipline in the process of quitting is consistent with other situations, such as military boot camp, where people learn to shape up and be more disciplined than before.

As for former smokers having more education, it is noteworthy that for many smokers, formal education is completed before they finally quit. In my own case as a former smoker, I quit many times but only finally after 18 years of trying, some six years after I finished formal education. Thus, though the level of self-discipline might have been sufficient to help smokers persist in their education, they probably learn a new level of self-discipline by the experience of successfully overcoming nicotine addiction. So, the “specialness” of former smokers is that they have learned a level of self-discipline that probably is what makes them more valuable in the workplace.

I don’t, however, recommend that you take up smoking just so you can develop more character by quitting. There are easier ways to do that—maybe even military boot camp.


Safdar, Khadeeja. Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2013., p. A3

For strategies and tactics to succeed in your quest for more self-discipline, see my book, Blame Game. How To Win It, endorsed by celebrity psychologist, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and theologian Dr. Robert Schuller.

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