George orwell — books vs. cigarettes — essay

A couple of years ago a friend of mine, a newspaper editor, was
firewatching with some factory workers. They fell to talking about his
newspaper, which most of them read and approved of, but when he asked
them what they thought of the literary section, the answer he got was
«You don’t suppose we read that stuff, do you? Why, half the time you’re
talking about books that cost twelve and sixpence! Chaps like us couldn’t
spend twelve and sixpence on a book.» These, he said, were men who thought
nothing of spending several pounds on a day trip to Blackpool.

This idea that the buying, or even the reading, of books is an expensive
hobby and beyond the reach of the average person is so widespread that
it deserves some detailed examination. Exactly what reading costs,
reckoned in terms of pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have
made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price.
After allowing for various other expenses, I can make a fairly good guess
at my expenditure over the last fifteen years.

The books that I have counted and priced are the ones I have here,
in my flat. I have about an equal number stored in another place, so that
I shall double the final figure in order to arrive at the complete amount.
I have not counted oddments such as proof copies, defaced volumes, cheap
paper covered editions, pamphlets, or magazines, unless bound up into
book form. Nor have I counted the kind of junky books old school
text books and so forth that accumulate in the bottoms of cupboards.
I have counted only those books which I have acquired voluntarily,
or else would have acquired voluntarily, and which I intend to keep.
In this category I find that I have 442 books, acquired in the
following ways

Bought (mostly second hand) 251
Given to me or bought with book tokens 33
Review copies and complimentary copies 143
Borrowed and not returned 10
Temporarily on loan 5
Total 442

Now as to the method of pricing. Those books that I have bought I have
listed at their full price, as closely as I can determine it.
I have also listed at their full price the books that have been given
to me, and those that I have temporarily borrowed, or borrowed and kept.
This is because book giving, book borrowing and bookstealing more or
less even out. I possess books that do not strictly speaking belong
to me, but many other people also have books of mine so that the books
I have not paid for can be taken as balancing others which I have paid
for but no longer possess. On the other hand I have listed the review and
complimentary copies at half price. That is about what I would have paid
for them second hand, and they are mostly books that I would only have
bought second hand, if at all. For the prices I have sometimes had to
rely on guesswork, but my figures will not be far out. The costs were
as follows

s. d.
Bought 36 9 0
Gifts 10 10 0
Review copies, etc 25 11 9
Borrowed and not returned 4 16 9
On loan 3 10 0
Shelves 2 0 0
Total 82 17 6

Adding the other batch of books that I have elsewhere, it seems that I
possess altogether nearly 900 books, at a cost of 165 15s. This is the
accumulation of about fifteen years actually more, since some of these
books date from my childhood but call it fifteen years. This works out
at 11 Is. a year, but there are other charges that must be added in
order to estimate my full reading expenses. The biggest will be for
newspapers and periodicals, and for this I think 8 a year would be
a reasonable figure. Eight pounds a year covers the cost of two daily
papers, one evening paper, two Sunday papers, one weekly review and
one or two monthly magazines. This brings the figure up to 19 1s, but
to arrive at the grand total one has to make a guess. Obviously one often
spends money on books without afterwards having anything to show for it.
There are library subscriptions, and there are also the books, chiefly
Penguins and other cheap editions, which one buys and then loses or
throws away. However, on the basis of my other figures, it looks as
though 6 a year would be quite enough to add for expenditure of this
kind. So my total reading expenses over the past fifteen years have been
in the neighbourhood of 25 a year.

Twenty five pounds a year sounds quite a lot until you begin to measure
it against other kinds of expenditure. It is nearly 9s 9d a week, and
at present 9s 9d is the equivalent of about 83 cigarettes (Players)
even before the war it would have bought you less than 200 cigarettes.
With prices as they now are, I am spending far more on tobacco than I do
on books. I smoke six ounces a week, at half a crown an ounce, making
nearly 40 a year. Even before the war when the same tobacco cost 8d an
ounce, I was spending over 10 a year on it and if I also averaged a
pint of beer a day, at sixpence, these two items together will have cost
me close on 20 a year. This was probably not much above the national
average. In 1938 the people of this country spent nearly 10 per head per
annum on alcohol and tobacco however, 20 per cent of the population were
children under fifteen and another 40 per cent were women, so that the
average smoker and drinker must have been spending much more than
10. In 1944, the annual expenditure per head on these items was no less
than 23. Allow for the women and children as before, and 40 is a
reasonable individual figure. Forty pounds a year would just about pay
for a packet of Woodbines every day and half a pint of mild six days
a week not a magnificent allowance. Of course, all prices are now
inflated, including the price of books still, it looks as though the
cost of reading, even if you buy books instead of borrowing them and
take in a fairly large number of periodicals, does not amount to more
than the combined cost of smoking and drinking.

It is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books
and the value one gets out of them. «Books» includes novels, poetry, text
books, works of reference, sociological treatises and much else, and
length and price do not correspond to one another, especially if one
habitually buys books second hand. You may spend ten shillings on a
poem of 500 lines, and you may spend sixpence on a dictionary which
you consult at odd moments over a period of twenty years. There are
books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of
the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life,
books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads
at a single sitting and forgets a week later and the cost, in terms
of money, may be the same in each case. But if one regards reading
simply as a recreation, like going to the pictures, then it is possible
to make a rough estimate of what it costs. If you read nothing but novels
and «light» literature, and bought every book that you read, you would
be spending allowing eight shillings as the price of a book, and four
hours as the time spent in reading it two shillings an hour. This is
about what it costs to sit in one of the more expensive seats in the
cinema. If you concentrated on more serious books, and still bought
everything that you read, your expenses would be about the same.
The books would cost more but they would take longer to read. In either
case you would still possess the books after you had read them, and
they would be saleable at about a third of their purchase price. If
you bought only second hand books, your reading expenses would, of
course, be much less perhaps sixpence an hour would be a fair estimate.
And on the other hand if you don’t buy books, but merely borro
w them
from the lending library, reading costs you round about a halfpenny an
hour if you borrow them from the public library, it costs you next door
to nothing.

I have said enough to show that reading is one of the cheaper recreations
after listening to the radio probably THE cheapest. Meanwhile, what is
the actual amount that the British public spends on books? I cannot
discover any figures, though no doubt they exist. But I do know that
before the war this country was publishing annually about 15,000 books,
which included reprints and school books. If as many as 10,000 copies
of each book were sold and even allowing for the school books, this
is probably a high estimate the average person was only buying, directly
or indirectly, about three books a year. These three books taken together
might cost 1, or probably less.

These figures are guesswork, and I should be interested if someone
would correct them for me. But if my estimate is anywhere near right,
it is not a proud record for a country which is nearly 100 per cent
literate and where the ordinary man spends more on cigarettes than an
Indian peasant has for his whole livelihood. And if our book consumption
remains as low as it has been, at least let us admit that it is because
reading is a less exciting pastime than going to the dogs, the pictures
or the pub, and not because books, whether bought or borrowed, are too

Cdc — fact sheet — health effects of cigarette smoking — smoking & tobacco use


Smoking 1,2

  • Harms nearly every organ of the body
  • Causes many diseases and reduces the health of smokers in general

Quitting smoking lowers your risk for smoking related diseases and can add years to your life.1,2

Smoking and Death

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

  • Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States. This is about one in five deaths.1,2,3
  • Smoking causes more deaths each year than all of these combined 4
    • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
    • Illegal drug use
    • Alcohol use
    • Motor vehicle injuries
    • Firearm related incidents
  • More than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States during its history.1
  • Smoking causes about 90% (or 9 out of 10) of all lung cancer deaths in men and women.1,2 More women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer.5
  • About 80% (or 8 out of 10) of all deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are caused by smoking.1
  • Cigarette smoking increases risk for death from all causes in men and women.1
  • The risk of dying from cigarette smoking has increased over the last 50 years in men and women in the United States.1

Smoking and Increased Health Risks

Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.

  • Smoking is estimated to increase the risk
    • For coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times1,6
    • For stroke by 2 to 4 times1
    • Of men developing lung cancer by 25 times1
    • Of women developing lung cancer by 25.7 times1
  • Smoking causes diminished overall heath, such as self reported poor health, increased absenteeism from work, and increased health care utilization and cost.1

Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease

Smokers are at greater risk for diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease).1,2

  • Smoking causes stroke and coronary heart disease the leading causes of death in the United States.1
  • Even people who smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day can have early signs of cardiovascular disease.1
  • Smoking damages blood vessels and can make them thicken and grow narrower. This makes your heart beat faster and your blood pressure go up. Clots can also form.1,2
  • A heart attack occurs when a clot blocks the blood flow to your heart. When this happens, your heart cannot get enough oxygen. This damages the heart muscle, and part of the heart muscle can die.1,2
  • A stroke occurs when a clot blocks the blood flow to part of your brain or when a blood vessel in or around your brain bursts.1,2
  • Blockages caused by smoking can also reduce blood flow to your legs and skin.1,2

Smoking and Respiratory Disease

Smoking can cause lung disease by damaging your airways and the small air sacs (alveoli) found in your lungs.1,2

  • Lung diseases caused by smoking include COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.1,2
  • Cigarette smoking causes most cases of lung cancer.1,2
  • If you have asthma, tobacco smoke can trigger an attack or make an attack worse.1,2
  • Smokers are 12 to 13 times more likely to die from COPD than nonsmokers.1

Smoking and Cancer

Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body 1,2 (See figure above)

  • Bladder
  • Blood (acute myeloid leukemia)
  • Cervix
  • Colon and rectum (colorectal)
  • Esophagus
  • Kidney and ureter
  • Larynx
  • Liver
  • Oropharynx (includes parts of the throat, tongue, soft palate, and the tonsils)
  • Pancreas
  • Stomach
  • Trachea, bronchus, and lung

If nobody smoked, one of every three cancer deaths in the United States would not happen.1,2 Smoking increases the risk of dying from cancer and other diseases in cancer patients and survivors.1

Smoking and Other Health Risks

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and affects a person s overall health.1,2

  • Smoking can make it harder for a woman to become pregnant and can affect her baby’s health before and after birth. Smoking increases risks for 1,2,5
    • Preterm (early) delivery
    • Stillbirth (death of the baby before birth)
    • Low birth weight
    • Sudden infant death syndrome (known as SIDS or crib death)
    • Ectopic pregnancy
    • Orofacial clefts in infants
  • Smoking can also affect men’s sperm, which can reduce fertility and also increase risks for birth defects and miscarriage (loss of the pregnancy).2
  • Smoking can affect bone health.1,5
    • Women past childbearing years who smoke have lower bone density (weaker bones) than women who never smoked and are at greater risk for broken bones.
  • Smoking affects the health of your teeth and gums and can cause tooth loss.1
  • Smoking can increase your risk for cataracts (clouding of the eye s lens that makes it hard for you to see) and age related macular degeneration (damage to a small spot near the center of the retina, the part of the eye needed for central vision).1
  • Smoking is a cause of type 2 diabetes mellitus and can make it harder to control. The risk of developing diabetes is 30 40% higher for active smokers than nonsmokers.1,2
  • Smoking causes general adverse effects on the body. It can cause inflammation and adverse effects on immune function.1
  • Smoking is a cause of rheumatoid arthritis.1

Quitting and Reduced Risks

  • Quitting smoking cuts cardiovascular risks. Just 1 year after quitting smoking, your risk for a heart attack drops sharply.2
  • Within 2 to 5 years after quitting smoking, your risk for stroke could fall to about the same as a nonsmoker s.2
  • If you quit smoking, your risks for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder drop by half within 5 years.2
  • Ten years after you quit smoking, your risk for lung cancer drops by half.2


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Health Consequences of Smoking 50 Years of Progress A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 accessed 2014 Feb 6 .
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease What It Means to You. Atlanta U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010 accessed 2014 Feb 6 .
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. QuickStats Number of Deaths from 10 Leading Causes National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2013 62(08) 155. accessed 2014 Feb 6 .
  4. Mokdad AH, Marks JS, Stroup DF, Gerberding JL. Actual Causes of Death in the United States. JAMA Journal of the American Medical Association 2004 291(10) 1238 45 cited 2014 Feb 6 .
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Women and Smoking A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville (MD) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General, 2001 accessed 2014 Feb 6 .
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Reducing the Health Consequences of Smoking 25 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville (MD) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 1989 accessed 2014 Feb 6 .

For Further Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Office on Smoking and Health
E mail tobaccoinfo
Phone 1 800 CDC INFO

Media Inquiries Contact CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health press line at 770 488 5493.