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Report implies benefit to death of smokers

Sick smokers may burden a country's health care system, but dead smokers save governments money.

That's the conclusion of a study on the financial cost of smoking that was commissioned by tobacco giant Philip Morris _ and condemned by anti-tobacco campaigners who questioned its findings and called it unethical.

Researchers looked at the Czech Republic and concluded its government saved $30-million in 1999 because it did not have to support, house and care for smokers who died prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses.

The study by research company Arthur D. Little International concluded the financial benefits to the Czech government from duties and taxes paid by consumers, importers and tobacco businesses outweighed the costs of health care, lost working days and fires caused by cigarettes.

On top of that, it said, were the "indirect positive effects" of early deaths _ savings on health care, pensions, welfare and housing for the elderly. The government's net gain from the tobacco industry was $146-million, it said.

Anti-tobacco groups said the study was offensive because it suggested that retired people have no value to society.

"Is it rational or ethical to consider the premature death of its population as preferable? We don't think so," said Dr. Douglas Bettcher of the World Health Organization.

Remi Calvet, director of communications for Philip Morris at its European headquarters in Switzerland said the report was a "classical economic study."

"We deeply regret any impression that premature death of smokers could represent a benefit for society," he said.

Bettcher said the finding that cigarettes benefit the economy is debatable. A World Bank report last year concluded it was easy to quantify the economic benefits of smoking, but much more difficult to measure the costs.