Ripe Fruit For Health Savings

Any person, business or institution trying to save money looks first to the most obvious means available.

In the struggle against escalating health care costs, the low-hanging fruit is better health and the means to achieve it. And among that low-hanging fruit, smoking cessation is the lowest.

Even though smoking rates have declined ever since the 1964 surgeon general’s report definitively tied smoking to cancer, and have plummeted in the last 20 years, it still kills about 400,000 Americans every year and remains the foremost preventable cause of death. And, it continues to cost the economy about $300 billion a year in direct health care costs and ancillary costs such as lost productivity.

Pennsylvania, the other states and the federal government all have had major roles in driving down smoking rates. Preventing people from smoking and becoming addicted to nicotine in the first place is the key to further reducing those rates, along with disease and mortality rates and their associated costs.

A new study by the online finance site, WalletHub, has identified the per-smoker cost to the economy, by state, and it should help convince lawmakers to take the next big steps to prevent smoking addiction.

The study is based on the annual and lifetime costs associated with smoking a pack of cigarettes per day, including health care expenditures, income loss and other expenses.

It found that the lifetime cost for a Pennsylvania smoker is $1,745,665, which is the 11th-lowest among the states. It includes $149,660 in direct costs, $179,442 in health care costs, $223,972 in income loss, and $1.19 million in lost financial opportunity costs.

The low-hanging fruit to change those numbers for the better is the legal smoking age. In Pennsylvania, it still is 18. Other states, including New York, New Jersey and Maryland, have or soon will increase it to 21, and Congress has begun talking about doing so nationally.

The three-year difference is crucial. Studies show that people who do not begin smoking by 18 typically never will smoke. Pennsylvania should raise the age to 21 and include “vaping” of electronic cigarettes, which also are addictive. Doing so would improve public health and reduce health care costs while eliminating many of the ancillary costs identified in the study, vastly eclipsing the amount of state tax revenue that would be lost.

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