New Studies Detail the High Costs of Smoking in America, and the Comparative Bargain of Convincing People to Quit
Statement of Matthew L. Myers
President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
WASHINGTON, DC – Two new studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the health care costs of smoking are even higher than previously estimated, and that the CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers mass media campaign has been extremely cost-effective at getting smokers to quit.
Together these studies demonstrate that tobacco use is needlessly bankrupting our health care system despite the availability of proven, cost-effective measures that are not being fully utilized. While the United States has greatly reduced smoking, tobacco use continues to take a huge health and financial toll on the nation that policy makers cannot ignore.
The first study finds that smoking costs our nation about $170 billion a year in health care spending – 8.7 percent of all health care spending in the U.S. This is up from an estimate of at least $132.5 billion included in the 2014 Surgeon General’s report on tobacco released in January. More than 60 percent of these costs are paid by taxpayers through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. These findings show that smoking imposes a cost on all taxpayers and reducing tobacco use is a critical part of bringing down health care spending in the U.S.
The second study shows that in its first year (2012), the CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign helped 100,000 smokers to quit and saved about 17,000 people from a premature death. The campaign, with a modest budget of $48 million, spent only $480 per smoker who quit and $393 per year of life saved. These costs are far below the benchmark of $50,000 per year of life saved that is a commonly accepted threshold for measuring cost-effectiveness of public health interventions, study authors write.
These studies show that investing in programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart and fiscally responsible thing to do. It saves lives AND money. We urge Congress to ensure that campaigns like Tips from Former Smokers are continued and expanded.
Tips, which continued in 2013 and this year, is the first federally-funded national media campaign to reduce tobacco use. It has been highly effective despite being on the air for only about 12 weeks a year and spending just a fraction of the $8.8 billion a year, or $1 million per hour, the tobacco industry spends to market its deadly and addictive products. The 2014 Surgeon General’s report called for conducting national mass media campaigns “at a high frequency level and exposure for 12 months a year for a decade or more.”
The states must also increase funding for proven tobacco prevention and cessation programs, including media campaigns. The states collect over $25 billion a year from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but spend less than two percent of it on these programs, falling far short of CDC recommendations. The states must increase their tobacco prevention and cessation efforts because the bill is just getting larger. (On Thursday, December 11, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health groups will release our annual report on state funding of tobacco prevention programs.)
There is growing evidence that tobacco prevention and cessation programs deliver a strong return on investment. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that Washington state saved more than $5 in tobacco-related hospitalization costs for every $1 spent during the first 10 years of its program.
Tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States, killing 480,000 Americans every year. Despite our progress, 17.8 percent of U.S. adults and 15.7 percent of high school students still smoke. Without urgent action now, 5.6 million children alive today will die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases. The studies today remind us that this is an entirely winnable battle and that the cost of failing to do so is far too high.