What is the real cost of your patients smoking?

2021 01 14 21 51 2400 Cigarette Smoker Closeup 400

Cigarette smoking-related illnesses have led to more than 20 million deaths in the U.S. over the past 50 or so years. The societal and economic hits are just as costly, according to a report released on January 13 by the personal finance website WalletHub.

Smoking costs the U.S. more than $300 billion in healthcare and lost productivity each year. However, people can pay even more depending on where they live. The three areas with the highest cost of smoking were Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and New York, in that order. Meanwhile, Mississippi had the lowest cost of smoking, followed by Missouri and Alabama.

WalletHub said it investigated the true per-person cost of smoking in all 50 states and the District of Columbia by crunching potential monetary losses such as the lifetime and annual costs of buying a pack of cigarettes per day, as well as healthcare spending and other expenses. The calculations were based on an adult who smokes one pack of cigarettes per day, beginning at the legal purchase age of 21. The site used 69 years as the average age at death.

A financial blow

The estimated total financial cost of smoking over a lifetime is more than $2.2 million per smoker, WalletHub found. That figure climbed to $3.2 million in Massachusetts. In Mississippi, the total cost per smoker was approximately $1.7 million.

Over a lifetime, the average out-of-pocket cost per smoker is $122,884. Smokers in New York pay the highest average cost, at $183,434, which is more than double what smokers pay in Missouri, at $86,023.

On average, a smoker will experience $566,018 in income loss over a lifetime. The District of Columbia topped the list, at a loss of $797,178 in income. In comparison, a smoker in Mississippi will lose $395,643 during his or her lifetime.

Regarding smoking-related healthcare costs, Massachusetts again topped the list, with a smoker spending $289,789 over a lifetime. In Kentucky, a smoker pays the least, at $110,280.

Changes that can occur

Comprehensive state tobacco-use treatment and prevention programs are the best way to combat cigarette use, specifically among youth, said Dr. Adam Goldstein, director of the University of North Carolina Tobacco Intervention Programs. Employers and health insurance companies also can do their part by removing barriers to quitting, including co-pays for medications, and incentivizing providers to counsel patients, he added.

"Providers receive almost nothing ($10-20 on average) to spend the needed time in counseling patients addicted to tobacco to quit," Goldstein said.

Smoking cessation is considered one of the most cost-effective interventions, he said.

"If insurers can pay $200,000 a year in medications to treat a cancer patient, they can spend $1,000 in that same year to help that patient quit smoking. It is common sense," Goldstein added.

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