House Health Care Bill Harms Efforts to Reduce Smoking, Prevent Cancer and Other Costly Diseases

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

May. 4 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – If allowed to become law, the health care bill approved today by the U.S. House of Representatives would set back the nation’s efforts to reduce tobacco use and prevent deadly diseases like cancer that impose massive costs on our health care system and disproportionately impact our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

The bill eliminates the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which has supported critical initiatives to reduce tobacco use and prevent leading killers such as cancer and heart disease. It would also result in millions of Americans losing their health care coverage, including access to life-saving preventive health services such as tobacco cessation treatments. Many adults currently enrolled in Medicaid would lose access to preventive services, including tobacco cessation, which is critical as adult Medicaid recipients smoke at more than twice the rate of adults with private health insurance (27.8 percent vs. 11.1 percent).

This legislation turns back the clock on prevention and public health. It would greatly undermine efforts to combat tobacco use and other causes of poor health in our country, costing lives and health care dollars.

Tobacco use is still the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, killing more than 480,000 Americans each year and causing nearly a third of all deaths from cancer and heart disease. Tobacco use is also responsible for about $170 billion in health care costs each year. Nearly 60 percent of these costs are paid by government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The evidence is clear that reducing tobacco use saves lives and money.

The prevention fund currently provides 12 percent of the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more than half of the funding for the CDC’s highly effective programs to prevent young people from starting to use tobacco and help adult tobacco users quit. Repealing the fund would likely result in elimination of the CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers media campaign that has been so cost-effective at helping smokers quit. Since its launch in 2012, the Tips campaign has motivated about five million smokers to try to quit, helped about 500,000 smokers to quit successfully and saved at least 50,000 lives, according to the CDC. At a cost of less than $400 for each year of life saved, it is considered a “best buy” in public health. The Tips campaign is a prime example of how smart investments in prevention can reduce disease and save lives.

To win the fight against cancer and heart disease, our nation must increase rather than cut back its investment in proven programs to reduce tobacco use, including the Tips campaign. As the CDC reported last year, smoking causes at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States, while declines in smoking have played a huge role in reducing cancer deaths in recent decades. Since 1990, when cancer death rates peaked among males, about 1.3 million tobacco-related cancer deaths have been prevented, the CDC reported. About 60 percent of the decrease in cancer death rates among men and 40 percent of the decrease among women are due to reductions in tobacco-related cancers. Reductions in smoking have also played a major role in reducing heart disease.

Investments in and coverage of disease prevention – including tobacco cessation – are essential to improving health, saving lives and reducing health care costs in the United States. The House bill would significantly set back these efforts.

 

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