In February of 1946 Eric Arthur Blair better known as George Orwell, wrote a rather humorously sounding article entitled, Books V Cigarettes. In this article Orwell explores the cost differences between his two most consistent habits: smoking and reading.
Now I do not claim to be at the same level as the literary genius which is Orwell, I am after all, only a lowly university lecturer; however, I do feel that after sixty-three years this somewhat obscure article should be revisited and updated.
I have taken it upon myself; (I know, how humble of me) to update Orwell’s cost comparisons with my own. I too am a bibliophile and much to the chagrin of my wife; have a not unremarkable nicotine addiction.
It is with this that I introduce Books V Cigarettes (revisited and updated for 2009) Below you will find the costs of my long lasting habits expressed in Euro as that is the currency I am currently using. (If you want the costs from 1946 reading the original essay would be a good place to start) Additionally, I will where appropriate, use today’s currency exchange rate to express amounts in Dollars and Pounds.
I have been a “smoker” since I was fifteen years of age; with long stretches in between. The longest that I have belonged to the “non-smoker” club had been for three years when my first daughter was born.
Currently, on a daily basis I smoke between 14-15 cigarettes, where as a package of cigarettes today comes with 16. (again, this is the packaging method used in Germany, where I currently reside, I know that in the United States packages of 20 are still the norm) In general, I would deem it safe to say that I currently smoke one package of cigarettes a day for the following reasons.
In general, I smoke slightly less than a package a day. When I am sick, I do not smoke at all. However, when I am out with friends, or in a particularly aggravated state; I will over shoot the 14-15 per day and sometimes reach the ghastly number of 30-35. (approximately two packages) It is with the above reasons, I would safely say I smoke no more than one package of cigarettes a day.
The price in Germany for one package of cigarettes is €4.10 (which will soon be taxed again, raising the price to €5.00) If we take the simple math €4,10 X 7 days we come up with a weekly total of €28.70. And again, if we take the weekly total of €28.70 X 52 we get the grand yearly total of €1,492.40.
So, an accounting sheet would look something like this:
Cigarettes: €1,492.40 :$2,206.63 £1,372.43
Now the rather large discrepancies in the exchange rates show the drastic loss of value in the US dollar whereas the Euro and the GBP seem to be close to equal; however, that is a discussion for another time.
Now, in the present economy, these totals amount to a tidy some; I have been fortunate to be able to maintain this habit and my book buying habit with out finical difficulties for my family. By freelance speech writing and articles such as this; I have been able to allocate resources to these habits with out the slightest hardship suffered upon my wife and children. Naturally, if it was a choice between smoking and feeding my family, I would chose the former over the latter.
In any event, the amounts spent on books, upon review, are actually quite surprising. Reviewing my book buying history on Amazon, which, with a bit of Orwellian irony; contains the complete history of every purchase I have made through their website; a consistent pattern emerges.
2009 not quite being over, I have chosen to take the data starting from October of 2008 to the present purchases made earlier today. (I will assume the books will be delivered and my account not refunded for the sake of argument.) So, in October of 2008 I spent a total of €215.56. In the month of November a total of €359.12 had been spent. In December and January nothing had been spent. (I had to read all the books I had gotten for Christmas) February being a short month only saw €75.43 where as March a grand total of €454.89 was spent. Between April and June no purchases were made; however, July and August saw €128.56 and €89.99 respectively. September was a short purchase only amounting to €10.99 and this morning I spent another €189.99. Now, not all of these books were bought for my own use; as I had said before, I love books, both to receive and to give them away. Conservatively speaking, ( is there any other way when speaking about money?), I would say 20% or about €300.00 had been spent as gifts. These expenditures leave us with a grand total::
Books: €1,224.53 $1,805.11 £1,123.16
Again, we see a close parity between the Euro and GBP with the dollar displaying a remarkable weakness. One can only assume that the United States Federal Reserve and US financial policy makers have some rather bad habits of their own. Again, though, that is not the focus of this article.
Now, we are left with two grand totals, that of my smoking habit weighing in at €1,492.40 and that of my reading habit €1,224.53. As you will note there is a difference between these two spending habits of €267.87 which to some, (mainly my wife) would be a considerable expenditure for such a filthy habit: of course I am speaking about the cigarette habit and not that of the book buying habit.
And now, I will digress for a moment to talk about Quality of Life versus Quantity of life. When George Orwell originally wrote Cigarettes V Books in 1946 the affects of smoking, second hand smoke and other proclaimed dangers, were not as well know as they are today. I will not say, unknown, as the state of medicine and of the public at large were not blind to the affects of smoking. They were not and still are not ignorant. Rather, I believe, there was a certain liberalism and reasonability taken by the average man: and later woman, once the advertisers had had their way; which allowed individuals to assess the consequences and chose for themselves the risks and dangers of their various pursuits of happiness.
Nowadays, it would seem all reason has left the public as if in the past 63 years the average person had slowly lost their ability to make choices and weigh the consequences; at least this is the way in which the state behaves. It has been clear to me for the past twenty odd years that smoking carries with it certain inherent dangers and ill health affects. The fact that on every package of cigarettes sold in Germany there is a warning label which states, “Smoking can be deadly” (rauchen kann tödlich sein) makes even the most obtuse individual know that there are dangers to these habits. I recognise the danger. I accept the consequences for my actions. I chose quality of life over quantity. The quality of life I get from this habit thus far, out weighs any unknown quantity that I may or may not receive in the future. Granted, my addiction, perhaps, is not as great as others (I have no problems going 12 hours at a time without my nicotine fix) however, I have no problem exchanging an unknown quantity for an immediate change in quality.
I suppose the quantity versus quality debate could been seen as a rationalisation of my addiction; however, can anyone honestly say, they would prefer to live a miserable long life? I believe, most people would chose a short life of quality over that of quantity and longevity.
And with this I must take one further digression before returning to the main point. Every culture the world over respects and to some degree celebrates youth and vitality. In the west, this admiration for youth and being young has been taken to a new level. A level, which is out of proportion and I believe to be damaging to the culture at large. Being a California native, I have seen and to some degree been party to this ultra-fascination with being young and doing everything to preserve life at the cost of quality. I have issues with these tendencies for two fundamental reasons.
The pursuit of longevity is an illusion; which focuses peoples attention on trivialities when there is a lot more going on in the world. An example, would be the myriad of fad diets, miracle drugs and plastic surgery disasters, these things often are an unfortunate distraction and an utter waste of time; just ask Juan Ponce de León.
Having checked the length of this article, I know realise that I have written more in length (perhaps not more in-depth) than the original article written in 1947. In fear of “ranting” I will now close this revision with a few last thoughts, which happen to be the same as Orwell’s .
Orwell closed his essay Books V Cigarettes, with a few words about the costs of books and how cost was not a deterring factor; but, rather, simple interest was at fault for the decline in book sales. Granted, this last thought, I did not cover; but, twisting the logic a little; I would say that too is a choice between quality and quantity.
I had originally sought, to bring into focus my own expenditures when it came to my two most favourite habits. Additionally, I sought to show, that my choices were made without the errant state sponsored conformity which is prevalent in the west; and even more so in California. I say, this without malice, as I am a native Californian; however, it seems to me, that California really has and continues to live up to the ironic moniker “Zen fascist State”
Again, I find it odd and perhaps a little telling; that where I live now (Germany) in many aspects respects individual choice and freedoms much more than other western cultures. Germany, as a state, has come from a condition of institutionalised conformity, crushing pressure towards mediocrity to what seems to be a finial bastion of true individualism.