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Tobacco Control Program Saved Billions in Health Costs

Rapid benefits in California tied to fact program was directed at adults, not youth, study finds
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By Krisha McCoy

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

HealthDay news imageTUESDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- California's state tobacco program resulted in a 50-to-1 return on investment over 15 years, say researchers from the University of California, San Francisco.

In a study published in the Aug. 25 issue of PLoS Medicine, researchers evaluated the health care savings that occurred as a result of the tobacco control program between 1989, when the program began, and 2004, when the study ended.

They found that the program saved $86 billion -- in 2004 dollars -- while only costing the state $1.8 billion to fund the program.

The savings were due to the fact that the program prevented 3.6 billion packs of cigarettes from being smoked over the 15-year period.

"The benefits of the program accrued very quickly and are very large," senior author Stanton Glantz, director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, said in a university press release.

Glantz said that the reason the California program had such sizable and rapid benefits in health-care cost savings was the fact it was directed at adults, not youth.

"When adults stop smoking, you see immediate benefits in heart disease, with impacts on cancer and lung diseases starting to appear a year or two later," he said.

These savings occurred despite the fact that there was a substantial diversion of funding during the mid-1990s. In fact, the researchers estimated, if the funding had been maintained at the same intensity as it had in the program's early years, the total health-care cost savings would have increased from $86 billion to $156 billion over the 15 years.

Previous research has shown that large state tobacco control programs can reduce smoking, heart attacks and cancer. But this study is the first to quantify the health-care savings that result from these types of programs.

Glantz teamed up with James Lightwood, assistant adjunct professor in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, who specializes in mathematical modeling, health economics, and statistics.

For this study, Lightwood used methods that were developed to analyze financial markets. The researchers used these methods to model the relationship between per capita tobacco control expenditures, per capita cigarette consumption, and health-care expenditures across the study time frame. They compared the California results to those from 38 states that did not have comprehensive tobacco control programs before 2000.

The researchers hope that this study will help support the development of new tobacco control programs.

"The methods in this study can be used to forecast future costs and will provide important additional means for validating program evaluations that previously did not exist," Lightwood in the university new release.


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