A world without smokers — the view from anti-smoking advocates

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Though some government programs rely on funding from high cigarette taxes, the health risks associated with the habit have lead to government bans and initiatives designed to get people to quit or never start. Some have wondered, however, where the government would make up the lost cigarette tax revenue if anti-smoking advocates succeeded in creating a world without smokers?

Those in the anti-smoking community say it is a no-brainer. If everyone were to quit, health care expenditures would be significantly lower –swamping any lost revenue concerns. Of course, there would also be ancillary quality of life benefits as well.

Stanton Glantz, professor of tobacco control at the American Legacy Foundation, told The Daily Caller that regardless of any savings accrued by smokers dying earlier, the health care costs of smokers, while they are alive, are quite hefty.

A study conducted by Glantz and colleagues published in 2008 found that in Arizona, between 1996 and 2004, the state’s tobacco control program brought about a reduction in cigarette consumption of 200 million packs, which was associated with $2.33 billion in health care savings.

In California, Glantz found that between 1986 and 2004, California’s smoking control program — which was far more aggressive than Arizona’s –brought about an $86 billion reduction in health care costs. By 2004, health care costs had decreased by 7.3 percent.

“If we were to snap our fingers and nobody smoked, everyone would be financially better off,” Glantz told TheDC.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), state Medicaid programs spend over $30 billion annually on tobacco related ailments. The organization has recommended higher taxes on cigarettes to fund smoking cessation efforts, which would ultimately reduce the health related costs of smoking.

“These state expenditures can be reduced by taking effective steps to reduce smoking, such as enforcing strong smoke-free laws, increasing state tobacco-prevention funding, and raising state tobacco tax rates, which will also bring the state substantial amounts of new revenue.” CTFK recommends.

Gene Borio of Tobacco.org told TheDC that the intangible costs of smoking are just as bad, such as caring for and losing a parent, sibling, or grandparent.

“The cost to families having to deal with one less wage-earner, or child-care giver (grandparent),” he wrote in an e-mail. “How do you quantify the loss of a grandparent no longer there to give wisdom and guidance, to share the duties of child-rearing, to ease the strain on a parent?”

In 2009, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, usually an unshakable proponent of the free market, advocated for the absolute outlaw of tobacco.

“What we should be doing is banning tobacco,” Coburn said. “Nobody up here has the courage to do that. It is a big business. There are millions of Americans who are addicted to nicotine. And even if they are not addicted to the nicotine, they are addicted to the habit.”

Glantz, on the other hand, does not believe outlawing tobacco is the right idea. He prefers making smoking a less attractive and more costly habit.

“I don’t think that making cigarettes illegal is the right way, it would just turn into another drug war. But there are programs that are effective to stop and prevent smoking, particularly strong anti-tobacco media campaigns like the American Legacy Foundation truth campaign, smokefree laws, and increased tobacco taxes,” Glantz said.