A pack of cigarettes that sells for $7.48 in New Jersey ends up costing the state’s economy $30.29 once the cost of healthcare for smoking-related diseases, lost time at work, and premature death is considered, according to a study released Tuesday by the American Lung Association.
In all, the economic toll of New Jersey’s smokers exceeded $8.3 billion in 2009, according to research conducted by Penn State. Medical expenditures for smoking-related illnesses totaled $3.6 billion, while premature deaths due to smoking drained the economy by a further $2.9 billion, the study said. Smoking also cut productivity by $1.8 billion.
Spending money to help smokers quit not only saves lives but saves states money in the long term, the study found.
“Quitting smoking can be the single most important step a smoker can take to improve the length and quality of life,” said Paul Billings, a vice president of the American Lung Association. But quitting is hard. And many people don’t know about the programs available to them or have access to them.
The cost-benefit analysis of stop-smoking programs in each of the states found that cessation efforts, on average, generate $1.26 in benefits for every dollar spent to implement them.
The report appears at a time when New Jersey has cut its funding for smoking cessation programs from $7 million to zero.
The cuts “could not have come at a worse time,” said Deborah P. Brown, president of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, which covers New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “We are looking at both a budget crisis and rising health care costs.”
Federal stimulus funds have enabled the state to maintain its telephone hot line or “quitline,” and a stop-smoking initiative in 30 high schools, said Dawn Thomas, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department. The state received $1.3 million this year for tobacco control: $938,000 for the quitline, and $390,000 for the youth program. More than 5 percent of New Jersey smokers contacted the quitline in 2007, compared with 2.7 percent nationwide.
Tobacco use is the nation’s top preventable cause of death, responsible for about one in five deaths. Tobacco use damages virtually every part of the body, not just the lungs, health experts say.
After decades of progress, the decline in smoking rates among adults has stalled. More than two-thirds of tobacco users want to quit, but it often takes more than one attempt to succeed.
The study released Tuesday estimated that New Jersey has more than 1 million smokers, with an additional 100,000 tourists who smoke. The state’s casinos have not banned smoking, though it is limited in other public places.
“We know the state needs to make an investment in comprehensive smoking cessation,” said Brown. “Now we have evidence. It’s not only to save lives but to save favorable economic benefits for the state.”
New Jersey is one of only seven states to mandate that private insurers cover treatments. New Jersey should also make it easier for state Medicaid recipients and public employees to receive full insurance coverage for cessation efforts, Brown said.
Some of the highest rates of smoking are found among people enrolled in Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, so much of the healthcare cost of smoking is borne directly by taxpayers. Medicaid smoking rates are 60 percent higher than they are for the rest of the population, said Jennifer Singleterry, manager of cessation policy for the lung association. Medicaid recipients often face co-payments or other obstacles, such as pre-authorization, to getting help to quit when the want to, said Brown.
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends seven types of medication, including some over-the-counter nicotine replacement gums and patches, and three types of counseling for smoking cessation.
Aside from defunding cessation programs, New Jersey compares favorably to other states the steps it has taken to cut smoking. The percentage of smokers — estimated by the federal Centers for Disease Control at 14.8 percent — is below the national average.
New Jersey has the fourth-highest cigarette taxes in the nation: a $2.70 excise tax plus a 49-cent sales tax per pack, on average.
Tobacco taxation “is the single most effective factor in getting smokers to quit,” according to Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC director.
The state also bans smoking in restaurants, bars and workplaces, which helps save lives by preventing bystanders from the effects of second-hand smoke.
BY LINDY WASHBURN