Why Uncle Sam should back programs to quit smoking

USA Today

It makes no sense. Not only could stamping out tobacco save the tens of thousands of lives still being lost to tobacco-triggered lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes and more, but kicking butts the right way could save the nation at least $70 billion a year, says a new report Dr. Mike just helped write.

When Dr. Mike ran the numbers with Michael P. O’Donnell, editor of the American Journal of Health Promotion, they discovered that the government and most American businesses — from giant corporations to garage start-ups — are missing a huge opportunity to refuel the economy by investing in two stop-the-madness strategies. All it takes:

1. Funding proven programs that focus on crave-stoppers and counseling. This one-two punch against nicotine addiction gives smokers a 28 percent chance of succeeding on the first try. Sure, cold turkey’s cheaper, but it fails 95 percent of the time. Anti-craving drugs (bupropion, varenicline) and nicotine-replacement products (patches, gum) are a big help, but pairing these meds with individual or group counseling is 40 percent more effective than drugs alone.

2. If you’re an employer, stop hiring smokers unless they quit. Plenty of employers do this, including the Cleveland Clinic (where Dr. Mike works). If federal, state and local governments did, too, you’d be amazed at how fast we’d save people and dollars, and create jobs (yes, if we reduce medical costs, we become more competitive for jobs). While some states don’t allow this practice, look for it to spread as corporations get smarter. It’s a great way to cut medical costs and protect other employees from “thirdhand smoke” — your exposure to the toxic tobacco byproducts clinging to smokers’ clothes and hair. It’s also a powerful incentive for job-hunters to put “quit smoking” as well as “write a killer resume” on their to-do lists.

Here’s how one, or both, of these strategies could help get you and the whole country back on our feet.

Your state saves huge. We taxpayers save even more. Take Ohio as an example. If all Ohio smokers trying to quit got access to the most successful methods, medical costs would plunge nearly $55 million per year. Taxpayers would pocket even more, because the state’s Medicaid program would save nearly $64 million per year. Think that should make future state budget debates friendlier? Tell your legislators.

Employers, you get big savings, too. Businesses get $6-$12 back for every dollar spent on proven quitting strategies. Yet just one in four small companies and three in five big ones offer health insurance that covers quitting. More and better coverage is great for the bottom line: It could save a large company $41.5 million in 12 years. If the same company also stopped hiring smokers, it’d save another $67 million. And that’s just in medical costs. It doesn’t count the jumps in productivity that happen when smokers stop taking smoke breaks and need fewer sick days. (To run the numbers for your business, go to http://www.HealthPromotionJournal.com/SmokingPaST.html.)

Smokers, you save big, even if you have to pay for your own program. Not only will you save the money you’d ordinarily spend on cigarettes, but your out-of-pocket health expenses also fall in five to 10 years, saving another $1,600. Go ahead, book that 50th-anniversary cruise with your spouse now. By quitting, you boost your odds for living that long.

The You Docs, Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic, are authors of “You: Losing Weight.” For more information go to http://www.RealAge.com.

Read article online here.

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