Tuesday, April 28, 2009

State Workers Using Tobacco Must Pay More or Quit Smoking

Huron Indian myth has it that in ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save humanity. As she traveled over the world, everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. And everywhere her left hand touched the soil, there grew corn. And when the world was rich and fertile, she sat down and rested. When she arose, there grew tobacco...

The love-hate relationship with tobacco, the Bright Leaf, the Sot-Weed, endures.

State workers - and their spouses - in Tennessee will see a $50 a month increase in health insurance if they smoke, according to new regulations set to go into effect at year's end.

A report in today's Tennessean notes the intention is better health and saving money, but the costs of state-sponsored programs to help workers quit are also quite high:

To help smokers quit before the deadline, the state will offer sharp discounts on prescriptions and over-the-counter products like nicotine gum and patches starting May 1.

Employees will be allowed to take part in six-week smoking cessation seminars on state time. The state held its first stop-smoking seminar Monday — a 6:30 a.m. gathering at one of Nashville's correctional facilities. Similar seminars will be held in every county and at every agency, with online stop-smoking "webinars"

It's not yet known how much it will cost the state to help its workers and retirees kick the habit, but Haile estimated it could cost several hundred thousand dollars.

These workers - one of the few groups in Tennessee allowed to operate under a union - will also be subject to random testing to check on whether or not they are smoking.

Meanwhile, a report earlier this month quotes Vanderbilt economist Kip Viscusi, who has worked as a "litigation expert" for the tobacco industry, and he says the costs of smoking actually saves the nation money and that those who don't smoke impact insurance rates because they live longer:

However, smokers die some 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, according to the CDC, and those premature deaths provide a savings to Medicare, Social Security, private pensions and other programs.

Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi studied the net costs of smoking-related spending and savings and found that for every pack of cigarettes smoked, the country reaps a net cost savings of 32 cents.

"It looks unpleasant or ghoulish to look at the cost savings as well as the cost increases and it's not a good thing that smoking kills people," Viscusi said in an interview. "But if you're going to follow this health-cost train all the way, you have to take into account all the effects, not just the ones you like in terms of getting your bill passed."

Viscusi worked as a litigation expert for the tobacco industry in lawsuits by states but said that his research, which has been published in peer-reviewed journals, has never been funded by industry.

Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

A Dutch study published last year in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal said that health care costs for smokers were about $326,000 from age 20 on, compared to about $417,000 for thin and healthy people.

The reason: The thin, healthy people lived much longer."

Ah, tobacco, what are we to do with you?

--DISCLAIMER - The writer of the above was using tobacco during the writing of this article, but might alter that habit were he to be fortunate enough to become a unionized state worker.

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