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Smoking results in staggering costs over a lifetime

The average California tobacco smoker will lose more than US$1.5 million over a lifetime, including the cumulative cost of a pack per day, health care expenditures, income losses and other costs, according to an analysis by the personal finance website WalletHub.

“The loss of life, the cost of medical care, the loss of productivity is enormous,” Humboldt County Public Health Officer Dr. Donald Baird said.

Each year, WalletHub reports the True Cost of Smoking by State, tallying the societal and economic impacts that total more than $320 billion a year involving some 66 million tobacco users in the U.S.

The states ranged from Louisiana at the lowest with $1.23 million total cost per smoker to New York at $2.45 million lost over a lifetime. California was right in the middle at $1,512,519.

The American Lung Association, meanwhile, last week released its State of Tobacco Control, a yearly report card the federal government and all 50 states on key tobacco control policies.

The group gave the state mostly failing grades because elected officials are doing too little to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Anti-smoking activists want the tobacco tax increased by $2 per pack and the extra money earmarked for funding for tobacco prevention and control, and tobacco-related disease research and treatments. They also want to increase the purchase age of tobacco from 18 to 21 and have restrictions on the sale of electronic cigarettes and flavored tobacco products. And they want to expand access and coverage of tobacco cessation treatments and services for all Medi-Cal recipients.

Many resources and support services are available in Humboldt County for smokers who want to kick the habit, Baird said. In addition to county public health clinics, free Quit Kits are available at the College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University student health centers from the American Cancer Society and through the Open Door Health clinics.

The most effective way for people to quit smoking combines cessation counseling with nicotine replacement therapy or medications, which can help people fight the craving for tobacco, ease withdrawal symptoms and keep people from using tobacco again.

“Scare tactics don’t work in helping people quit. People need support,” Baird said. “No. 1, the person has to want to quit.”

Dr. Elie Richa, an oncologist with Humboldt Medical Specialists, said smoking causes more than lung cancer. Other cancers related to smoking affect the head, neck, kidneys and bladder because that’s where all of those cancer-causing substances collect before being excreted from the body.

People using electronic cigarettes still are exposing themselves to nicotine, heated and aerosolized propylene glycol and glycerol, Richa said.

The long-term health consequences of e-cigarette use are unknown, Richa said. The toxicity of chronic exposure to those components and other elements in e-cigarettes is uncertain, he said.

Wallethub’s calculations are based on an adult who smokes one pack of cigarettes per day beginning at age 18, when a person can legally purchase tobacco products. The analysis assumes a lifespan of an additional 51 years because 69 is the average age at which a smoker dies.

Out-of-pocket costs are the average cost of a pack of cigarettes per state, multiplied by the total number of days in 51 years. Financial opportunity lost is determined by the amount of return a person would have earned by investing that money in the stock market. Health care cost per smoker are direct medical costs to treat smoking-related health complications based on state-level data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies show smoking can lead to loss of income from absenteeism, workplace bias or lower productivity because of smoking-induced health problems.

Nonsmokers are generally entitled to a homeowner’s insurance credit of 5 percent to 15 percent, according to the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.

When he was 14 years old, Baird used a financial tactic to get his father, an accountant, to quit. Baird wanted a ski boat, and he calculated how long it would take if his father quit smoking to accrue the money needed to buy the boat.

“I was appealing to the way he thought,” Baird said.

Baird had his share to contribute to the boat fund, but a year later, they reached their goal. Most importantly, his father kicked the habit, and he made his son make one other vow.

“He made me promise that I would never smoke myself,” Baird said. “It’s the best deal I ever made in my lifetime.”

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