I recently saw a PSA from the organization "truth" that claimed there was a wage gap between smokers and non-smokers (the idea being that you should stop smoking if you want more money).


Of course it costs money to buy cigarettes or whatever, but the PSA explicitly says that the difference is in their earnings:

Fact: Smokers earn 20% less cash than non-smokers.

They also make it clear that there is a causal link between the two, thus ending smoking will close the wage gap (and there isn't a third factor responsible for both):

Be the generation that ends smoking and close the wage gap.

Is there any truth to this claim?

  • 1
    This US National Library of Medicine paper quotes a gap of between 2 and 10 % reported on various papers and using data dating from between 1973 and 1999. However, it also notes that higher pay, white collar workers are 40% less likely to smoke. Such a statistic seems meaningless unless it is comparing people in equal professions. See ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3717362
    – user22684
    Nov 6, 2016 at 3:22
  • 4
    You're probably aware, but even if this is true, it doesn't show that you should stop smoking if you want more money. A correlation like this could have many other explanations aside from "smoking causes you to earn less than you would otherwise," the most obvious being "there's some third factor that contributes to causing both low wages and smoking."
    – paradisi
    Nov 6, 2016 at 4:20
  • 1
    Well, if nobody in the next generation smoked, I guess there would technically be no wage gap because smokers would not exist ... Anyway, you have cited the claim in the PSA, and I think it would be interesting to learn if it is true, so +1
    – paradisi
    Nov 6, 2016 at 4:31
  • 1
    It might also be worth investigating whether this statistic applies to previous decades such as the 1940's and 1950's when smoking was far more common among the upper class. Nov 6, 2016 at 11:18
  • 1
    I don't think the causal relationship can be shown to hold. Indeed, by this time the causal effect probably goes the other way. It's mostly only really dumb people who smoke, and being really dumb means you're likely to earn less money.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 6, 2016 at 19:20

1 Answer 1


The video shows a brief shot of their source:

If you want to earn more money, quit smoking. Martha C. White, News. Thursday, 1 Aug 2013 | 3:24pm

A quick search reveals this CBNC article:

In a new paper, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta economists Julie Hotchkiss and Melinda Pitts found that smokers only earn about 80 percent of what nonsmokers earn. People who used to smoke and quit more than a year earlier, though, earn 7 percent more than people who never lit up in the first place.


The two researchers attribute about 60 percent of the wage gap between smokers and nonsmokers to demographic differences—collectively, smokers tend to be less-educated than nonsmokers, for instance—but the rest were ascribed to what they called, "unmeasured factors."

"The wage disadvantage to smoking has been well documented … [but] hard to believe that the direct unpleasantness of smoking is the main factor," Frank Stafford, an economics professor at the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center, said via email.

So, yes, there is a wage gap, but most of that wage gap is not caused by smoking.

Newspapers aren't reliable reporters of science, so let's go to the original paper:

Note: Working Papers are typically not considered peer-reviewed.

This paper finds that nearly two-thirds of the 24 percent selectivity-corrected smoking/nonsmoking wage differential derives from differences in characteristics between smokers and nonsmokers. These results suggest that it is not differences in productivity that drive the smoking wage gap. Rather, it is differences in the endowments smokers bring to the market along with unmeasured factors, such as baseline employer tolerance. In addition, we also determine that even one cigarette per day is enough to trigger the smoking wage gap and that this gap does not vary by smoking intensity.

The lack of a dose-response curve is more evidence against causality.

The paper discusses the possible reasons for the correlation. It does not claim causality. It does suggest that, perhaps, it is the employers' perception of the smoking employees that is the major factor.

  • 3
    The thought strikes me that if it is not a productivity issue but an employer perception issue, the gap could be dealt with with a pro-smoker education campaign rather than an anti-smoking campaign.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 6, 2016 at 6:13
  • 2
    @Oddthinking That could be found out if there are numbers available from times where smoking perception was totally different than it is today. Or data from countries where smoking culture is in that state today, probably in Asia.
    – daraos
    Nov 6, 2016 at 19:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .