Smoking cost still massive
The historic toll of smoking is well known — 20 million dead since 1964, about 2.5 million of whom died from illnesses caused by secondhand smoke.
Reducing that toll has been one of the great public health achievements of modern times. Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking smoking through the National Health Interview Survey in 1965, the percentage of adults who smoke has declined from more than 42 percent that year to 15.5 percent in 2016.
Yet, 38 million American adults continue to smoke and the toll remains massive.
According to the American Lung Association, nearly 500,000 still die each year due to smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. The cost to the economy is more than $300 billion every year.
The decline of the smoking rate is due to a wide array of factors. State governments deliberately have made the habit more expensive through taxation. Vast education and smoking cessation campaigns have been effective. Regulatory restrictions have prevented tobacco companies from advertising directly to teens. And states have banned smoking in most public places, diminishing the impact of secondhand smoke and diminishing the social acceptability of smoking.
Now, the online economic site Wallethub has conducted an analysis demonstrating the personal cost of smoking that should prompt further initiatives to reduce the smoking rate.
The analysis includes the direct costs of buying cigarettes, income loss for people with smoking-caused diseases, increased insurance costs for smokers and costs related to secondhand smoke exposure.
In Pennsylvania, the total cost per year per smoker is $43,413 and the lifetime cost per smoker is $2.21 million. Nationally, both of those figures are the 10th-highest among the states.
Those costs should prompt the state Legislature to return to the issue this year. It should eliminate all exemptions in the indoor smoking ban law to protect employees at exempted casinos and some bars from the deadly impact of secondhand smoke. It should stop pilfering the fund from the national tobacco settlement for the general budget and use it instead to improve anti-smoking education and to provide universal access to smoking cessation programs.
Such action could help hasten the day when, finally, smoking no longer is the nation’s foremost cause of preventable deaths.