Smoking Costs U.S. $300 Billion/Year; Control is Key to Health Care Reform

Smoking Costs U.S. $300 Billion/Year; Control is Key to Health Care Reform
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Although the U.S. already spends more money per person on health care than any other country on earth, it nevertheless ranks only 43rd in life expectancy – behind the Turks, Cayman, and Faroe Islands, Greece, South Korea, Italy, etc. – and our failure to take effective tobacco control measures is a major cause, according to a new report to be issued on World No Tobacco Day (Wednesday).

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It notes that smoking is the cause of fully one-fifth of all preventable deaths, and costs the American economy an estimated $300 billion every year. Since this is many times the estimated cost of Obamacare, and probably also of its expected replacement, a significant reduction in smoking would more than pay for the total costs of Obamacare, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

It reports that “studies have shown that every dollar spent on tobacco control is repaid many fold in healthcare savings. Even these costs are easily offset by minor increases in cigarette taxes, which in turn help prevent children from taking up smoking.”

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Even more importantly, the two measures proven to most effectively and efficiently reduce smoking, and the huge medical expenses it creates – restrictions on smoking, and increasing the cost of smoking through higher taxes or increased health insurance premiums – cost taxpayers absolutely nothing.

Restricting smoking – in workplaces, public places, and increasingly in private cars and in homes to protect children – is the most effective way to slash smoking and its huge costs, says Banzhaf, who started the nonsmokers’ rights movement by taking the first successful legal actions to restrict smoking.

“Making it more difficult and inconvenient to remain a smoker, and constantly reminding smokers through smoking bans that their smoking makes them “social pariahs” (in their own words), is the most effective way to slash smoking,” argues Banzhaf, based upon countless studies.

Alternatively or in addition, raising taxes on cigarettes not only forces many smokers to quit or substantially reduce their smoking; it also (even after allowing of these declines) brings in increased revenue to relieve taxpayers, and fund antismoking activities and other health measures, he says.

A variant – requiring the 15.1% of adult Americans who are smokers to pay more of their fair share of medical care costs, rather than imposing them on the majority who do not smoke – occurs when smokers are required to pay higher premiums for their health insurance, just as they have long been required to pay more for life insurance, and in some cases for fire and automobile insurance. Indeed, the 50% surcharge on smokers under Obamacare has already been very effective in reducing smoking.

Obamacare and its expected replacement largely shifts or simply reallocates medical costs, but it doesn’t substantially reduce them. But smoking bans, higher cigarette taxes, and smoker surcharges can both raise our life expectancy and help pay medical costs in a more equitable manner, argues Banzhaf.

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John F. Banzhaf is an American public interest lawyer, legal activist and law professor at George Washington University Law School. He is the founder of an antismoking advocacy group, Action on Smoking and Health.
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