Smoking is Costlier and Deadlier Than Previously Believed
For the last 50 years — since the birth of the nation’s first public health campaign against smoking — smoking rates have declined substantially, from about 43 percent in 1965 to about 18 percent today. It is clear that our public health efforts have been effective in reducing overall smoking rates, but the bad news is that more than 42.1 million American adults continue to smoke, and every day nearly 3,000 adolescents under age 18 try cigarettes for the first time.
These millions of smokers face serious health consequences, including cancer, lung disease, heart disease — and more. An estimated 8.6 million Americans suffer from a serious smoking-related illness. These health consequences are expensive, too, especially for public insurance programs, and new research shows that the health care costs of smoking are higher than previously estimated.
Earlier research had estimated the costs to be $96 billion dollars or 7 percent of annual health care spending. But new research published December 2014 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that in 2010, nearly 9 percent of health care spending each year in the U.S. could be attributed to cigarette smoking. This equals more than $170 billion per year and public health insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid paid for the majority (60 percent) of these costs.
A separate study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this year found that 17 percent of the death rate among smokers was the result of diseases that previously had not been linked to smoking. These include:
- Kidney failure
- Intestinal disease caused by lack of blood flow
- Heart disease caused by high blood pressure
- Increased risks of infection
These startling findings show that researchers have underestimated just how lethal cigarette smoking can be. They also serve as a reminder that despite sizeable progress, smoking continues to be responsible for many diseases and premature death for millions of Americans.
Public awareness and dissemination of these findings will ideally lead to policy changes that continue to prevent and reduce smoking, such as tobacco taxes, clean indoor air laws and media campaigns. These continued efforts are necessary to eliminate tobacco’s toll on our health and health care spending. These new findings also should motivate health care professionals to prevent tobacco use among their patients and aggressively treat illnesses caused by smoking.
There is hope: by increasing federal and state funding of comprehensive and effective smoking prevention and cessation programs, we can lessen the burden that smoking has on our health care system and improve the health of millions of Americans.
Mark Stovell is a freelance blogger for CASAColumbia