Tobacco control policies 'bring healthcare savings'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Tobacco control policies implemented by national governments not only improve the health of a nation, but are also good for the economy, according to a new report in the Lancet medical journal.

The report's authors, based at the University of California, San Francisco, also exploded the myth that the advantages of cutting tobacco use take decades to be felt, arguing instead that important benefits of reducing smoking accrue quickly.

The authors of the report say after quitting smoking for just one year, the risk of heart attack is reduced by half. Someone who has not had a cigarette in five years can see their risk of heart attack almost return to that of someone who has never smoked, they added.

The economic benefits of reduced smoking figures also far outweigh the loss of revenue generated from the tobacco industry, the research found.

It showed that California's tobacco control scheme cost US$1.4 billion (£895 million) during its first 15 years, saving US$86 billion (£55 billion) in direct healthcare costs in the process - this is a 61 times return on investment.

Meanwhile, the amount of income lost as a result of people giving up or not smoking was a mere US$3.1 billion (£1.9 billion), which pales into insignificance when compared with the healthcare savings.

And the authors added: "In middle-income countries, tobacco use lowers the household standard of living and human capital levels because money to purchase tobacco comes at the expense of other crucial necessities."

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said: "Here is yet more evidence of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of tobacco control policies. As smoking rates fall, so do rates of diseases like heart attacks and cancers, with major savings to health services.

"We know that plain packaging will help to bring down smoking rates in the medium term and so we urge the government to introduce it together with other key measures like tax hikes and maintaining high-quality stop smoking services."

"And we urge governments around the world to implement the global treaty on tobacco control as quickly as possible, both to save lives and to save money on health care."

Copyright Press Association 2011