It is no secret that smoking is bad for one’s health, but it’s also bad for the pocketbook. Two new studies offer insight on the costs of smoking within Connecticut.
The American Lung Association’s new “State of Tobacco Control” report graded Connecticut on tobacco policies and found it mostly lacking. Although the level of state tobacco taxes received a B grade, the strength of Connecticut’s smoke-free workplace laws received a C grade, coverage and access to services to quit tobacco got a D grade, and F’s were handed out for the failure to establish 21 as the minimum age for the purchase of tobacco products and for the absence of funding for state tobacco use prevention programs.
“The state spent zero dollars last year on tobacco prevention programs, even though we get over $500 million in tobacco-related revenue,” stated Ruth Canovi, the American Lung Association’s director of public policy in Connecticut. “The money went to the general fund, and it has gone there more than 60 times in the last 16 years.”
Canovi noted that Connecticut is only one of two states where tobacco can be purchased by individuals under 21 (New Jersey is the other) and one of 22 states that has yet to enact laws designed to fully protect residents from secondhand smoke. There is one bright area in this picture: Connecticut is one of eight states that offer comprehensive Medicaid coverage for all cessation medications and counseling to help smokers kick the habit.
But Canovi is concerned that a continuation of the ongoing state of responsiveness is having too high of a toll. “In 2016, Connecticut spent over $2 billion in health care costs due to smoking, and we lost nearly 5,000 Connecticut residents to smoking attributable deaths,” she said.
Separately, data released by the financial website WalletHub provides a breakdown of the financial impact of smoking in each state and the District of Columbia. Connecticut was among the states where smoking had the greatest financial impact. It was third highest in overall rankings for both the total lifetime costs per smoker ($2.1 million) and the costs per year per smoker ($42,808). In comparison, Kentucky had the least lifetime cost per smoker ($1.1 million) and lowest cost per year per smoker ($22,285).
Connecticut also racked up dismal numbers regarding out-of-pocket costs per smoker ($170,513 per lifetime, $3,343 per year), health care costs per smoker ($274,272 per lifetime, $5,378 per year) and income loss per smoker ($286,950 per lifetime, $5,626 per year).
Of course, the problem is not isolated to Connecticut. The American Lung Association stated that smoking is responsible for nearly half a million deaths in the U.S. each year and is the leading cause of lung cancer. And despite all of the clearly established data on the subject, it appears that tobacco use continues to attract a youthful consumer audience.
“When you compare millennials to the older generation, the younger people are more likely to smoke than the older adults,” observed Dr. Anna Greer, director of exercise science at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. “But that is not unique to today’s millennials. Twenty years ago, the younger people were also more likely to smoke than the older adults.”
While Greer noted the workplace policies and social protocol designed to isolate smokers from each other can encourage people to quit smoking, new trends and technologies being presented as a safer alternative to tobacco use are creating more problems than solutions.
“We see more youth doing hookah, thinking that it is not dangerous,” she continued. “It is dangerous. Vaping or electronic cigarette use is high among people who tried to quit recently. They use it as a stepladder down from smoking because it is supposed to be less risky. But we know that there are risks.”
But getting help to stop smoking frequently comes late in the smoker’s tobacco addiction. “People that come to me for help have usually been smoking for 20 years or more,” said Diahann Wilcox, a nurse practitioner at the University of Connecticut. “And it is difficult to quit.”
For the American Lung Association’s Canovi, this year could be a turning point in Connecticut’s efforts to encourage more people to stop smoking while preventing others from starting – especially with the introduction of seven bills addressing the use of state funds for tobacco cessation efforts and the raising of the legal smoking age to 21.
“Judging by the conversations I’ve had and the number of proposed bills before the legislature, there seems to be more of an appetite for this,” she said. “Connecticut has a long way to go, but I am cautiously optimistic that we can make progress this year.”