Monday, February 09, 2009

Smokers, on the average, die 12 years earlier than non-smokers

Smoking is an individual decision with serious societal costs, and the biggest one is health. The medical costs of smoking-related illness in Missouri are about $2.13 billion each year.

We all end up paying that tab, either indirectly through higher insurance payments or directly in taxes paid for Medicare and Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance programs for poor and disabled people. State and federal taxpayers spend about $535 million a year to treat smoking-related illness in Missouri Medicaid patients.

One reason the tab is so high is that nearly a third of people on Medicaid are smokers, about 10 percentage points higher than the state average. The map on this page, based on data from the largest and most comprehensive survey on smoking habits ever conducted in Missouri, shows smoking rates in each of Missouri’s 114 counties and the city of St. Louis. The rates range from almost 35 percent in Mississippi and Washington counties to slightly more than 14 percent in Nodaway County.

Some of the highest smoking rates are found in counties in which Medicaid enrollment rates — the percentage of the population getting care through Medicaid — are the highest. That helps explain why advocates for the poor are trying to get Missouri Medicaid to add coverage for anti-smoking drugs and counseling.

About one of every five deaths in Missouri each year is tobacco-related. Nationally, for every smoker who dies, 20 more are diagnosed with serious illnesses. That would be almost 200,000 people a year in our state.

More than half of Missouri smokers say they want to quit. You might think people who can buy their own cigarettes should be able to buy drugs to help them quit. But in a perverse twist of tobacco economics, anti-smoking aids are more expensive than cigarettes — at least until you factor in smoking-related health costs that usually come decades after the fact.

Let's face facts. Smokers, on the average, die 12 years sooner than non-smokers.

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