SmokerA sign on the outdoor patio of a restaurant reads, “If we see smoke coming from your body, we will assume you are on fire and take appropriate measures.” Indeed, it does seem as if there is no place left for people who smoke to enjoy their habit.

The average cost for a pack of cigarettes in America is approximately $6 and many smokers go through at least one pack each day. There are also additional federal and state taxes tacked on to each carton of cigarettes, which makes this quite an expensive activity. Nevertheless, many people wonder if smokers should also pay more for health insurance.

What is the cost for health insurance?

We are bombarded every day with stories about the staggering cost of health care and health insurance in this country. Pundits and the general public volley back and forth about the pros and cons of our current system as well as potential solutions like the universal health care offered in other countries and the various components of our new healthcare laws.

Regardless of which side you are on, the facts remain unchanged. Health insurance is a system in which you make payments every month to a health insurance provider and, in return, the provider agrees to help cover the cost of any medical bills you might incur if you become sick, injured, or hospitalized.

The amount you pay for health insurance depends on a variety of factors. If you are employed by a business with 50 or more employees, you probably have employer-sponsored health insurance, which means your company chips in for part of the cost but you have to participate in whatever health plan they choose. The plan is usually chosen with the goal of cost savings for the company, which may not necessarily be in the best interest for the employees.

If you are self-employed or your company does not offer health insurance, you will have to purchase your own plan. This can seem like a daunting task due to the over-abundance of information and the flood of representatives promising to “help you.” Each plan differs in regard to how much you will be covered for items like prescriptions and hospital visits, and the type of doctors you can use.

Health insurance companies determine your costs based on a formula that calculates your likelihood of needing health care. For example, someone who builds skyscrapers and does their job outside, 50 stories up, without any kind of safety net may pay more in health insurance than the worker who will one day sit at a desk inside an office of that building shuffling papers.

In short, a young, healthy male will probably pay less in health insurance than an older female who smokes. Your overall health is also taken into consideration and they will ask about things such as whether you have diabetes or hypertension or are obese.

Most people with employer-sponsored health insurance pay between $50 and $300 per paycheck for their health insurance, depending on the plan provided and whether family members are also covered. Plans for individuals buying their own health insurance cost about the same amount, but pay the insurance company directly, instead of it being automatically deducted from your salary.

How does smoking affect health insurance costs?

News flash: The government warnings on the side of every pack of cigarettes are true. Smoking cigarettes increases your chances of developing a host of diseases and ailments such as cancer, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.

Since we all pay into the same healthcare pot, and smokers are more likely to develop certain conditions related to tobacco use, this means that smokers potentially use more of the health insurance money than those who do not smoke. The illnesses that come from second-hand smoke, which can also affect even those who have never smoked, should be included in those healthcare costs.

Those who believe that cigarette smokers should pay more for health insurance have plenty of support. The new healthcare laws that will fully take effect in 2014 allow health insurance providers to charge smokers a significantly higher rate.

On the other hand, people who disagree with smokers paying more have valid arguments on their side. For instance, Americans who are obese also risk life-threatening illnesses  that tend to drain more than their fare share from the health insurance pot, such as strokes and heart disease. Therefore, if smokers should pay more, perhaps overweight people should too.

Are there any alternatives to cigarettes?

Some people turn to cigars or chewing tobacco as an alternative to smoking. However, these products carry many of the same health hazards as cigarettes.

The newest product to come on the market is the electronic cigarette. This consists of a battery-powered contraption created to look and feel like a regular cigarette. The mechanism takes a nicotine-flavored liquid and heats it to vapor form so that users exhale only steam. Studies are still being conducted to establish whether or not they are safe for the consumer and those around them.

Of course, the best thing possible is for a smoker to kick their tobacco habit, so that any rise in the cost of health insurance for smokers wouldn’t affect them anyway.