Tobacco Prevention Saves Money

Jan 20, 2012, 3:55 PM, Posted by

Evidence is mounting to support the idea that proven prevention programs, especially those that help keep kids from smoking and help smokers quit, pay big returns by reducing health care costs:

  • A newly published study shows that Massachusetts saved more than $3 for every $1 it spent on services to help beneficiaries in the state’s Medicaid program quit smoking. (Also: read a related editorial.)
  • Tobacco prevention programs could save an astonishing 14 to 20 times the cost of implementing them, according to a recent study in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy.
  • A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) found that from 2000 to 2009, Washington State’s tobacco prevention and cessation program saved more than $5 for every $1 spent by reducing hospitalizations for heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and cancer caused by tobacco use. Over the 10-year period, the program prevented nearly 36,000 hospitalizations, saving $1.5 billion compared to $260 million spent on the program.

“These studies send a powerful message to the nation's elected officials that disease prevention initiatives, including programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, are essential to improving health and reducing health care costs in the United States," says Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

NewPublicHealth spoke recently with Julia Dilley, PhD, and officer with the Program Design and Evaluation Services Department in the Multnomah County (Oregon) Health Department and the lead author of the study published in AJPH about the findings.

NewPublicHealth: What were the key findings of the Washington State study?

Julia Dilley: The main thing we learned is that within a pretty short period of time the state [tobacco prevention] programs saved money.

NPH: Who should be looking at these studies?

Julia Dilley: Legislators and people who make state budgets. In Washington, for example, policymakers are making tough budget decisions, and they are not easy decisions to make. And I see them saying, well, we can do smoke-free policies and taxes, which are positive things to do, but programs cost us money. What we’re showing is that you need all three to be effective. The investment will be a benefit in the short- and long-term. In Washington State, policymakers defunded the tobacco control programs for the coming year, but may be reconsidering them for the coming fiscal year, in part because of the study and because some state leaders did not want to cut the funding. Right now Washington is the only state without a state-wide quit line.

NPH: Given the economic realities of the moment, what is the best way to leverage tobacco control program funds?

Julia Dilley: There is always good work to be done in leveraging funds. One example is that the graphic warning labels for cigarette packs designed by the Food and Drug Administration have a referral number for the national quit line. That’s a good example of a state not having to put as much of its resources in promoting state quit lines, if the authority of the FDA to require the graphic warning is upheld.

Weigh In: Has your state cut or added tobacco control programs recently?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.