Targeting Big Tobacco to save a few billion in health care costs

The United States spends about $200 billion a year on health costs related to tobacco use, half of the money is spent on direct health-care and the other half on lost productivity. 18% of women of reproductive age smoke and 173,940 women die every year from smoking related cancers. Never mind the effects of smoking on pregnancy and prematurity.

More than 80% of smokers start before the age of 18. Kids are much more vulnerable to the effects of smoking on dopamine (smoking increases dopamine, affecting reward and pleasure centers in the brain). In kids, physical dependence can start within 1 week of smoking. Yup, one week and you’re hooked. And make no mistake about it, nicotine is highly addictive (it takes 7 tries at quitting for a smoker to be smoke-free for 1 year).

Since most people start smoking when they are young we must focus prevention here.

If I were in charge these would be the 3 laws I would push for (and I am sure some tobacco flunky wants to tell me they are unconstitutional, but if we can ban the presence of lead in paint to protect children, why the hell can’t we enact some real change with tobacco to protect kids?!).

So to save some of that billion dollars a year (and a few hundred thousand lives) I would do the following:

1) Ban tobacco lobbying. I mean there is no lead paint lobby. Why should one toxin have an advantage over another? Seriously, politicians who take tobacco $$$ are essentially taking money to kill their constituents.

2) Increase the price of cigarettes by 100% through more taxes. Every 10% hike in price reduces youth consumption by 7%. Evidenced-based medicine baby.

3) Ban the $9.2 billion Big Tobacco spends on discounts. That’s right, 3/4 of the tobacco advertising budget goes into discount coupons, buy-one get-one deals etc. Seriously, that kind of fuckery is basically Big Tobacco giving the government the finger, because it counteracts the price hike from taxes.

If we want to get serious about the cost of health care, we must start now by controlling Big Tobacco. But then we would need politicians who actually care about people and not election coffers.

If we can have strict legislation on lead paint and ban toys with lead from China, why can’t we also protect our kids from the toxins manufactured at home?

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  1. the only problem here is that tobacco farming is still a huge industry. that is why there is no lead paint lobby, but definitely a tobacco lobby. those states that heavily depend on tobacco farming would have to substitute the crop. i am definitely okay with that. unfortunately, they’d probably replace it with corn, which is obviously already super scarce in the US (**sarcasm**). frustrating.

  2. Jen:

    Thanks for taking a stand about this!

    For those of your readers who are interested in furthering this cause, I have started a petition to ask some of the major national pharmacy chains to stop selling tobacco products in their store. If you are like me, you will be baffled that a business that considers itself part of the healthcare sector would sell tobacco!

    The petition can be signed here:

    [Thanks to Jen for allowing me to post this link]


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