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Thousands of lives saved due to Tobacco Prevention and Control Program

November 17, 2010

OLYMPIA (Washington State Department of Health News Release) - New research reports that the state's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program is directly responsible for fewer people in Washington suffering and dying from tobacco-related heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases, and cancer.

According to the new study, about 13,000 premature deaths have been prevented by the state's comprehensive tobacco prevention program. The program is also credited with preventing nearly 36,000 hospitalizations, saving about $1.5 billion in health care costs. Tobacco price increases and the state's tough indoor smoking law also played a role in improving health.

"This program is not only saving hard-earned dollars through a reduction in health care costs, it's saving lives," said Governor Chris Gregoire. "These are not just statistics; they're real people who are alive today because of our tobacco prevention and control efforts."

The study reports that for every dollar spent by the state on tobacco prevention in the last 10 years, five dollars have been saved in reduced spending on health care. To determine the 5-to-1 return on investment, researchers compared the cost of hospitalizations prevented over 10 years with the funds spent on state tobacco prevention work during the same time period.

"Tobacco-related illness and death are devastating to families. This study shows more people are living longer, healthier lives, and I'm proud that our work has had a lot to do with that," said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. "Of course, we don't do it alone. Our partners in local health agencies, schools, tribes, and community organizations all play a key role in tobacco prevention."

The return on investment of 5-to-1 is the cost savings for the dollar value of hospitalizations alone. These estimates don't include physician, pharmaceutical, and rehabilitation costs, as well as lost productivity for people and families. Total cost savings per hospitalization could more than double if these factors are included. The savings estimate also doesn't factor in many other health conditions that don't require hospitalization.

"This study provides evidence of a state government program that works," said Dr. Jeffrey Harris, director of University of Washington's Health Promotion Research Center and an author of the study. "The tobacco program has had an enormous impact on public health in Washington while more than recouping the dollars required to fund it."

Since the agency's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program began in 2000, the state's adult smoking rate has declined by more than 30 percent ? from 22.4 percent in 1999 to 14.8 percent in 2009. Washington now has the third lowest adult smoking rate in the nation. The state's youth smoking rate has also dropped from 25 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2008.

One of the primary resources to help people quit is the Washington State Tobacco Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW, 1-877-2NO-FUME). Callers receive free help identifying triggers for tobacco use and developing a personal plan to quit. More than 150,000 people in Washington have called since it opened for business in 2000.

Despite tremendous progress, significant work remains. People from low-income and lower educational backgrounds continue to smoke at nearly twice the rate of the general population. There are also alarming new trends in tobacco use. Smokeless tobacco, including chew, is on the rise among people who smoke. The trend coincides with the tobacco industry's introduction of new smokeless tobacco products, flavored tobacco products, and stepped-up marketing. These products often appeal to youth ? about 45 of whom start smoking each day in our state.

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