Follow the smoke to find the money


Eureka! I’ve figured out how the government can save money and not have to dip into the Social Security vault: Make smoking illegal.

OK, just roll with me on this one for a minute and ignore all the sin taxes attached to cigarettes that would have to be made up elsewhere.

Just consider what this nation and its citizens could save if we stopped smoking – $89.2 billion, and that includes a whopping $20.5 billion in Medicare costs alone! Another chunk goes to doctors, some to nursing homes, some for prescription drugs and more for home health care expenditures.

Yep, cigarette smoking added $20.5 billion to the nation’s Medicare tab in 1997, according to researchers from the University of California.

When you start adding all annual those costs, the aggregate Medicare payments over 30 years for aged and disabled persons who have suffered from smoking-related diseases could have exceeded $600 billion in current dollars.

Now that would pay for a lot of baby boomers’ Social Security retirement and disability checks.

Those figures don’t include costs for millions of employers for employees’ smoking-attributable productivity costs, like time lost spent on breaks, days spent in the hospital or at outpatient clinic visits. Those figures don’t include health care costs for individuals who suffer from secondhand smoke, and those figures don’t include extra costs of cleaning furnishings, clothing and extra costs related to cigarette-caused fires.

Compared with nonsmokers, the CDC says, smokers’ health outcomes tend to be worse and their recovery periods longer, even for surgeries unrelated to smoking.

We’re not just footing the bill for adults – who have made the conscious decision to smoke. Medical costs associated with newborns who suffer for their mothers’ ignorance are also huge. In the United States alone, a drop of 1 percent in pregnant smokers would result in 1,300 fewer low birth weight live births and save $21 million dollars in direct medical costs annually.

Ohio has a pretty big stake in the subject. A new report by the Centers for Disease Control lists Toledo and Cleveland as the cities with the highest adult smoking rate in the country. Of the 99 metropolitan areas studied, Toledo ranked No. 1 with an adult smoking rate of 31.2 percent. Cleveland was third at 29.8 percent, and other Ohio cities were not far behind. All told, Ohio has the fifth highest smoking rate in the country, with 26.3 percent of the adult population smoking.

(Of course, a 1999 University of Chicago study voiced a flip side to my argument. Smokers’ higher medical costs are outweighed by the fact that they don’t live as long as the average American and therefore have reduced nursing home expenditures and lower pension costs.)

These tax dollars can’t be spent on other, more important (in my mind), needs in this country. That’s a big waste and I’m not sure why we put up with it.

If you choose to smoke, so be it. I’m just not happy that my tax dollars pay for the consequences of your poor choice.


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