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A study published Thursday December 15 by the American Journal of Public Health provides some of the strongest evidence yet that tobacco prevention and cessation programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs.
The study found that from 2000 to 2009, Washington state’s tobacco prevention and cessation program saved more than $5 for every $1 spent by reducing hospitalizations for heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and cancer caused by tobacco use. Over the 10-year period, the program prevented nearly 36,000 hospitalizations, saving $1.5 billion compared to $260 million spent on the program. These are real savings in tobacco-related hospitalization costs from 2000 to 2009, not projected savings in future health care costs.
According to the study’s authors, the total savings are even greater when other tobacco-related health and productivity costs are included, in addition to the hospitalization costs. The study further found that Washington’s smoke-free workplace law and the state’s multiple cigarette tax increases also contributed to smoking declines and health care savings.
This study sends a powerful message to the nation’s elected officials that disease prevention initiatives, including programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, are essential to improving health and reducing health care costs in the United States. It comes at a critical time as funding for such programs is under attack at both the federal and state levels.
The study shows why Congress should protect the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the health care reform law rather than slash funding by as much as 68 percent, as some lawmakers have proposed. The prevention fund is a vital source of support for tobacco prevention and cessation efforts, including state and community grants, telephone quitlines to help smokers quit, and media campaigns to discourage kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit.
The new Washington study provides concrete evidence that investing in prevention can pay tremendous dividends by reducing the very diseases that cost the most to treat. Cutting the prevention fund would be a fiscally irresponsible step backward that would increase health care costs.
This study also underscores how penny-wise and pound-foolish the states have been in shortchanging tobacco prevention and cessation programs. In the current budget year (Fiscal Year 2012), the states will collect $25.6 billion in revenue from the 1998 state tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only 1.8 percent of it – $456.7 million – on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, according to a recent report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health organizations.
Despite the growing evidence that these programs save lives and save money, states have cut tobacco prevention funding by 36 percent over the past four years and now provide just 12 percent of the funding recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is incomprehensible given Washington’s success that the state has virtually eliminated funding for its tobacco prevention and cessation program this year.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people and costing the nation $193 billion a year in health care bills and lost productivity. The new Washington study confirms that tobacco prevention works to save lives and money. It makes no sense for elected officials to shortchange programs that are proven to reduce health care costs and save money for taxpayers.