Smoking Takes Huge Toll on U.S. Productivity

More money needed for cessation programs, experts say

THURSDAY, June 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Premature deaths due to smoking cost the United States about $92 billion in lost productivity from 1997 to 2001, up about $10 billion from 1995 to 1999, according to a new federal report.

When this lost-productivity estimate is combined with smoking-related health care costs, the sum exceeds $167 billion annually, the report said.

Despite fewer people smoking, the health care and lost productivity costs continue to rise.

"We have seen some slow, steady decline in smoking in the past 10 years," said Ann Malarcher, a senior research scientist in the Office of Smoking and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "However, these estimates reinforce that cigarette smoking is leading to a heavy toll both in the health burden and the economic costs in the United States."

The report appears in the July 1 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The report also found that every year from 1997 to 2001, there were some 438,000 premature deaths linked to smoking and secondhand smoke. From 1995 to 1999, an estimated 440,000 people died each year from smoking-related causes, the report said.

Malarcher said there are effective strategies to get people not to smoke in the first place, and to quit if they do smoke. "One of the major strategies is to raise the price of tobacco. That discourages kids from taking up smoking and also leads to quitting among people who are smokers."

Media campaigns are also effective, Malarcher said.

"Other effective strategies include restricting minors' access to tobacco and reducing expenses for smoking-cessation therapies," Malarcher said. Promoting smoke-free public spaces is also effective in helping people to quit, she added.

What's hindering these strategies is a lack of money. "Right now, the programs really are underfunded," Malarcher said. "We do recommend levels of funding to put towards programs."

If you compare the funding levels to all of the lost productivity, they cost less than 1 percent, she added.

Stanton A. Glantz is a professor of medicine at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco. Despite fewer smokers, he attributes the rise in health-related costs to an increase in the number of diseases linked to smoking, as well as increases in the cost of medical services.

What's needed, Glantz said, are more aggressive programs to encourage young people not to smoke, and to help those who are already smokers.

"We know how to rapidly reduce smoking," he said. "If you got out there with a smart, aggressive campaign, you could probably almost wipe smoking out in five or six years. That would be reflected in a huge drop in medical costs."

More information

The CDC can tell you more about quitting smoking.

SOURCES: Ann Malarcher, Ph.D., senior research scientist, Office of Smoking and Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.; Stanton A Glantz, Ph.D., professor of medicine, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco; July 1, 2005, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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