It’ll cost you to smoke: Government is right to discourage people from smoking
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jan 31, 2013 | 2263 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Annual health care costs are roughly $96 billion for smokers and $147 billion for the obese, the government says. These costs accompany sometimes heroic attempts to prolong their lives, including surgery, chemotherapy and other measures. But despite these rescue attempts, smokers tend to die 10 years earlier on average, and the obese die five to 12 years prematurely, according to various researchers' estimates. Photo: Nati Harnik/Associated Press/file
Annual health care costs are roughly $96 billion for smokers and $147 billion for the obese, the government says. These costs accompany sometimes heroic attempts to prolong their lives, including surgery, chemotherapy and other measures. But despite these rescue attempts, smokers tend to die 10 years earlier on average, and the obese die five to 12 years prematurely, according to various researchers' estimates. Photo: Nati Harnik/Associated Press/file
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Smoking, while primarily detrimental to the smoker, isn’t a solitary activity. It affects many others.

Second-hand smoke endangers non-smokers who breathe it.

Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, lung problems and cancer. People with these diseases — often from lower-income groups who are more likely to smoke and least likely to have health insurance — burden the health-care system and taxpayers who support it. Approximately 450,000 people die every year from smoking-related illnesses. About the only part of the economy that benefits is the mortuary industry.

Over time, sick smokers can become unproductive employees, so figure in the cost of smoking to employers in lost time on the job and lost productivity.

Few, if any, positives can be said about smoking other than that nearly 1-in-5 American adults find the satisfaction they get from it outweighs the risks it entails.

Thus, it’s in society’s best interest for the government to discourage smoking any way it can. That is why smoking is prohibited in so many places.

Yet, Americans continue to smoke — and nonsmokers pay the price.

Efforts to legislate a solution to this dilemma have produced conflicting results, as evidenced most recently by a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 that will make insurance for smokers more expensive.

In its simplicity, the plan will charge smokers higher premiums, which may help lead the smoker to quit smoking. When smokers quit smoking, they become healthier and are less of a burden on the health-care industry. But even if they do get sick, these nonsmokers have been able to afford health insurance.

Looks good — in theory.

The problem is that the guidelines issued under the Affordable Care Act allow private insurers to charge older smokers a premium that is 50 percent higher than if they did not smoke. This could strain the finances of many smokers who refuse to kick the habit.

According to an analysis by the Associated Press, an unrepentant 60-year-old smoker who earns $35,000 would pay one-fourth of his income because of increased health insurance premiums. There’s no way around it — that’s a lot of money to pay to continue a deadly habit. However, the increased premiums fall in line with the way other forms of insurance work. An astronaut or deep-sea diver pays more for life insurance than does a florist.

While the amount of premium increases for smokers may need adjustment, the government is right to do what it can legally to discourage smoking as well as account for health costs associated with it.
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