Posted by: audreybenenati | December 22, 2009

Spend tobacco money to save on health costs

Published: December 16, 2009

Perhaps because it’s obvious, or because it often seems contrary to the American lifestyle, the fact that staying healthy is the most cost-effective way to beat soaring health-care costs doesn’t get much notice.

Yet promoting health should be a staple of all government policy dealing with health care precisely because of its cost-effectiveness.

Pennsylvania, then, is not actually "saving" anything by backing away from its commitment to prevent tobacco addiction among children. It has reduced funding 11 years after the states’ lawsuit against the tobacco industry provided enough money to fund an effective fight.

A national survey of states’ use of money from the tobacco settlement found that Pennsylvania has cut state funding for tobacco prevention by 45 percent, from $32.1 million to $17.7 million a year – one of the largest cuts by any state. Of the $1.43 billion that the state government will collect this year from the 1998 tobacco settlement, just under 1.3 percent will go for tobacco prevention.

As noted by a coalition of public health groups that funded the study, the tobacco industry spends about $534 million a year marketing its deadly products in Pennsylvania, more than 28 times the amount that the state spends on prevention.

It is unfortunate that lawmakers have decided to look upon tobacco prevention as an expense rather than as the means to hold down health care costs far into the future. Many of those costs will be borne by state taxpayers through Medicaid, insurance for public employees and covering hospitals’ costs of uncompensated care.

The coalition comprises the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report noted that Pennsylvanians already smoke at rates above the national average and that 20,000 of those smokers die each year.

About 17.5 percent of Pennsylvania high school students smoke. More than 16,100 kids in the commonwealth become regular smokers each year. Lawmakers should restore funding next year to cut those numbers, and to save money over time.


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