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Study: U.S. Tobacco Control Program Saved Billions in Medical Costs

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
August 28, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A scientific study published this week found the tobacco control program in the state of California saved the state US $86 billion (in 2004 dollars) in personal health care costs in its first 15 years.

California has an economy and GDP larger than many nations, and it has one of the world's first and most effective tobacco control public education programs to inform the public about the dangers of tobacco use, discourage children from starting to smoke and encourage smokers to quit.

The new study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and published this week in an online issue of the peer-reviewed medical journal PLoS Medicine (Public Library of Science) and provides important evidence that tobacco control public education programs are a cost-effective investment for governments.

These programs not only improve health and save lives, but also save significant sums for governments, businesses and families by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. This study helps demonstrate why governments worldwide should fund such programs.

The results showed that from 1989 to 2004, the program saved $86 billion in personal health care costs, while the state spend $1.8 billion on the program, for a 50 to 1 return on investment. Additionally, the program stopped 3.6 billon packs of cigarettes from being smoked in the 15 year period.

Among its provisions, the World Health Organization international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, commits nations to raise public awareness about the health risks of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke, and about the benefits of not smoking.

To date 157 nations have ratified the treaty, which provides a road map for successfully reducing tobacco use if rigorously and fully implemented.

Earlier this year, the WHO released a report that identified a package of six cost-effective solutions that are mandated by the provisions of the FCTC, have been proven to reduce tobacco use and should be implemented in every nation.

Called the MPOWER package, these solutions require nations to:

  • Monitor tobacco use and assess the impact of tobacco prevention and cessation efforts;
  • Protect everyone from secondhand smoke with laws that require smoke-free workplaces and public places;
  • Offer help to every tobacco user to quit;
  • Warn and effectively educate every person about the dangers of tobacco use with strong, pictorial health warnings and hard-hitting, sustained media campaigns to educate the public; and
  • Enact and enforce comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships and on the use of misleading terms such as “light” and “low-tar;” and
  • Raise the price of tobacco products by increasing tobacco taxes.

The new study adds to the already overwhelming evidence from scientific studies that tobacco control public education campaigns work to reduce smoking among both youth and adults, save lives and save money.

For example, the U.S. government recently issued a comprehensive, 684-page report, titled The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use, that concluded that mass media campaigns are effective at reducing tobacco use and that such programs can change youth attitudes about tobacco use, prevent youth from starting to smoke and encourage adult cessation.

Governments must act now to provide citizens the help and information needed to stop smoking. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use killed one hundred million people in the 20th century, and if current trends continue, it will claim one billion lives in the 21st century.

More troubling, the epidemic is worsening, especially in the developing world where more than 80 percent of tobacco-caused deaths will occur in the coming decades.