State’s Anti-Smoking Plan Makes Cents

California’s Smoking Cessation Program Cuts Health Care Costs by Billions

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 25, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 25, 2008 -- Call it a “two for one.” California researchers say their state-funded program aimed at cutting smoking can also save a lot of money.

That’s the word from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco who looked at the monetary benefits of their state’s anti-smoking efforts. Started in 1989, the campaign is called The California Tobacco Control Program.

Researchers, led by James Lightwood, came up with figures by comparing California’s anti-smoking efforts to 38 other states.

The comparison states were states that did not have their own anti-smoking campaign in place before the year 2000 and had not increased taxes on packs of cigarettes by 50 cents or more during the course of the study.

Researchers then crunched the numbers to estimate what effect California’s program had on “total personal health care spending.”

They did the same for the 38 comparison states.

What the study found was:

  • The estimated total savings from the California anti-smoking program was $86 billion in personal health care between 1989 and 2004.
  • If you look at that another way, study authors write, that savings can be seen as a “50-fold increase” on the $1.8 billion spent on the program itself during the same period.
  • California’s anti-smoking plan also was associated with 3.6 billion fewer packs of cigarettes sold between 1989 and 2004.
  • Researchers say that translates to a big loss for tobacco companies -- an estimated $9 billion loss, before taxes.

This study defines “total personal health care spending as including:

  • Hospital costs
  • Doctor’s fees
  • Prescription drug charges
  • Home health care costs
  • Nursing home care
  • Health equipment
  • Vision products
  • Other personal health care

In background information published with the findings, researchers write that California’s program differs from other states’ programs because it aims to actually “change social norms” about smoking.

It targets getting adults to stop smoking, not trying to prevent teens from picking up the habit.

The thinking is if more adults stop, teen smoking will decrease.

Researchers write that the state wages an “aggressive media campaign” that puts out these three main messages:

  • The tobacco industry lies.
  • Nicotine is addictive.
  • Secondhand smokes kills.

Researchers write that there is a “large amount” of money available (from state taxes on cigarettes and from settlements with tobacco companies), but that “little of it has been invested in tobacco control programs.” The example they give is that out of the $25 billion a year that states receive, only $720 million will be dedicated to tobacco control programs this year.

The results are published in the August issue of PloS Medicine.

Show Sources


Lightwood, J. PLoS Medicine, August 2008, vol 5, issue 8.

News release, University of California, San Francisco.

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