Senate Health Care Bill Harms Efforts to Reduce Smoking and Prevent Deadly, Costly Diseases

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 22, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate health care bill released today would set back efforts to reduce tobacco use – the nation’s No. 1 cause of preventable death – and undermine initiatives to prevent cancer and other deadly diseases that impose massive costs on our health care system. It would especially harm our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, who smoke at the highest rates and need more help in quitting smoking.

Like the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives in May, the Senate bill eliminates the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which supports key initiatives to reduce tobacco use and prevent leading killers such as cancer and heart disease. But it would eliminate the prevention fund one year earlier than the House bill, taking away $900 million that would otherwise be available for Fiscal Year 2018, which is only three months away.

The Senate bill likely would cause millions of Americans to lose their health care coverage, including access to life-saving preventive health services such as tobacco cessation treatments. It also cuts Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars, which is likely to reduce both the number of people and health care services covered. Many adults currently enrolled in Medicaid could lose access to preventive services, including tobacco cessation, which is critical as adult Medicaid recipients smoke at more than twice the rate of those with private health insurance (27.8 percent vs. 11.1 percent).

Despite enormous progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use still kills more than 480,000 Americans each year and causes 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. More than 60 percent of these costs are paid by government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The fight against tobacco must remain a national priority – it 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.

Both the House and Senate bills are giant steps backward for disease prevention and public health. These bills would undermine successful efforts to reduce tobacco use and other causes of poor health in this country, costing lives and health care dollars. This damaging legislation must be rejected.