Were even 10 percent of American smokers to quit their habit and the remaining smokers were to reduce the number of cigarettes consumed by 10 percent, the U.S. healthcare system would be unburdened by $63 billion the next year.
Taken a step further, if every American were to give up smoking, the U.S. healthcare budget would be slashed by more than 22 percent, saving American taxpayers approximately 630 billion yearly.
Admittedly, that scenario is not likely to be realized. However, if the typical American smoker were to cut his or her consumption by a mere five percent (about 19 cigarettes packs a year), it would put an average of $35 back into every taxpayers’ pocket (not to mention the money smokers themselves would save on packs).
One in five Americans’ deaths linked to tobacco smoking — making the revelation of how expensive the habit truly is should unsurprising.
These findings come from an expansive new study which looked at smoking rates as they relate to healthcare expenditures across all 50 states and the District of Columbia over a span of 17 years.
California and Arizona were examined in depth while other states’ data acted as the control. In both states, when laws were put into place to discourage smoking, the prevalence of smokers decreased — as did the states’ overall healthcare spending.
The clear takeaway from this study is that if fewer Americans are harming their health with a tobacco habit it will benefit everyone — fewer premature deaths, less instances of chronic disease and more money in Americans’ wallets. So how do we convince Americans to quit smoking?
Various states have experimented with solutions to this question. Arizona, one of the states focused on in the study, has been particularly aggressive in passing legislation to curb the use of tobacco products. The state, like most of the country, has laws banning smoking in enclosed public spaces and, coupled with its $2 per cigarette pack tax, there has been a measurable decline in the state’s healthcare expenses, as Arizonians’ tobacco use has waned.
In contrast, Kentucky, identified as one of the highest smoker rates in the country, has one of the lowest cigarette pack taxes at just 60 cents. Kentucky also lacks bans on indoor smoking. As such, it’s probably not a coincidence that Kentucky spends more than most states, per capita, on healthcare.
States might also want to look around the world for inspiration to create anti-smoking policy. Australia might be considered at the forefront of implementing bold laws aimed at curbing tobacco use. Last year they won a legal battle against tobacco giant Philip Morris to allow the use of “plain” cigarette packaging, which covers the manufacturer logo with a fact such as “Smoking causes blindness” accompanied by a graphic image of a smoking-related disease sufferer.
Australia has also passed a law that will see per pack taxes raised 12.5 percent yearly until 2020, at which point a pack of cigarettes will cost an average of $33; taxes will account for 69 percent of the cost. This follows the World Health Organization’s recommendation that nations tax cigarettes by 70 percent of their cost.
Do these measures work? Australian health officials say tobacco use has been in steady decline since plain packaging began. They also expect the tax hike to be a further deterrent.
Right now the U.S. federal government levies a $1.01 tax per pack. It seems that even if raising this tax wouldn’t discourage smokers (and it almost certainly would), it would help negate some of the tremendous financial burdens habitual tobacco users place on all American taxpayers.
Something similar to Australia’s plain packaging was attempted in the U.S., however the FDA-led proposal has seemingly derailed despite a Supreme Court ruling against objecting tobacco interests in 2013.
There’s plenty the U.S. could do, on both the state and federal levels, to save American lives and cut healthcare spending.
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