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Richard Morin

Up in Smoke

By Richard Morin
Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page B05

Warning: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your wealth.

At least that's the claim of Jay Zagorsky, an economist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research.

_____Unconventional Wisdom_____
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The Salmon Effect (The Washington Post, Dec 19, 2004)
Previous Columns
E-mail Rich Morin at morinr@washpost.com.

Zagorsky found that the net worth of nonsmokers is roughly 50 percent higher than that of light smokers and about double the wealth of heavy puffers. He also found that the wealth gap grows by about $410 for each year that a person continues to smoke -- changes that could not be explained away by differences in education levels, income or other factors associated with wealth accumulation.

The researcher analyzed data collected from nearly 9,000 individuals who were interviewed in 1985, 1992, 1994 and 1998 on a variety of issues, including smoking and wealth, as part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

Zagorsky defined "light" smokers as those who reported smoking less than a pack a day on average, while "heavy" smokers used more than a pack a day.

Wealth included cash savings, stocks, bonds, the family home, any other real estate, and cars or other vehicles, among other assets. Debts were subtracted from that total to produce an estimate of each individual's net worth.

The participants in this study were between 33 and 40 years old in 1998, the last year they were interviewed, Zagorsky said. By that time in their lives, they had not accumulated much wealth: The average net worth of all participants in 1998 was about $50,000. Admittedly, that's not much. But even at this early stage of their working lives, the nonsmokers were already beginning to pull away from the smokers in the race to build a nest egg.

Zagorsky said that federal statistics on cigarette spending revealed an interesting pattern: The wealth reductions were roughly equal to how much smokers spend on their habit, suggesting that smokers buy cigarettes with money they would otherwise save, rather than with cash they would have spent on entertainment or on other non-wealth-producing goods or services.

In other words, a small but significant portion of their wealth goes up in smoke each year.

His advice for smokers who want to increase their fortunes as well as improve their health: "Stop smoking."

Bearing Witness

Bystanders and children who repeatedly witness others being assaulted, bullied or sexually harassed can experience both a psychological and physiological level of stress that over time can equal that of the victim, according to a Pennsylvania State University researcher.

Richard Hazler and his colleagues conducted detailed interviews with 77 students who identified themselves as victims of multiple abuse. In separate conversations held a week apart, study participants reported the subjective impact of abuse they had personally experienced as victims. In the second interview, they were asked how they felt about witnessing the repeated abuse of others. To measure levels of psychological stress, the researchers monitored the participants' heart rates and perspiration levels as they answered the questions.They found progressively elevated stress levels as study participants recalled the specific incidents of abuse, regardless of whether the test subject had been a victim or merely a witness, according to a report in a recent issue of the journal Violence and Victims.

Seeing the Rainbow

Here's one way to close the racial divide: Smile.

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