Smoking bans could lower health care costs

If someone came up to you today and said they had a sure-fire way to lower health care costs and make Kansas a healthier place to live and work, and — best of all — this idea wouldn't raise taxes or otherwise cost gobs of money to implement, wouldn't you want to know more?

Actually, you've probably already heard of the idea as the Kansas Health Policy Authority and other health-advocates have been suggesting for months a statewide smoking ban in public places to anyone who will listen to them.

While it appears that the ship has sailed on a smoking ban this legislative session, the dialogue must continue at the city, county, and state level. If we truly are going to be serious about lowering the cost of health care it is essential that we find ways to make people healthier.

Health insurance premiums increase because the total number of services received and the cost of those services are growing at a rapid rate. The best way to make health insurance more affordable for more people is to lower the number of services we collectively need and shift our focus to making healthier choices in order to avoid chronic conditions.

I don't believe anyone can credibly argue that smoking is good for you or for those who breathe second-hand smoke. Rather than reinforce what we already know about smoking — that it's bad for your health — with statistics, allow me to provide some stats illustrating how smoking bans improve a community's overall health:

— A smoking ban in Helena, Mont., dropped heart attack admissions at local hospitals 40 percent in six months, before the ban was repealed.

— In Pueblo, Colo., a smoking ban is credited with reducing heart attack admissions 23 percent during an 18-month study.

— When Italy banned smoking in public places they experienced a reduction in acute coronary events for people aged 35-64 of 11.2 percent and 7.9 percent for people ages 65-74.

Simply put, smoking bans in public places are successful in improving the health of a community. Bans also can be a boost to the economy by decreasing expenditures on medical costs and increasing productivity.

Studies indicate that 10-12 percent of today's health care costs are attributable to smoking-related conditions and diseases. The Society of Actuaries has determined that second-hand smoke costs the United States economy $10 billion a year — $5 billion in exposure to illness and $4.6 billion in lost wages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that smoking costs the U.S. economy $92 billion a year in lost productivity.

It is not my job, or anyone else's for that matter, to condemn those who choose to smoke. But let's make it perfectly clear that those decisions raise the cost of health care for all of us. If we are truly interested in lowering the cost of health care we need to make decisions that will improve the health of Kansans. Congratulations to those communities and counties which have already enacted smoking bans in public places. I encourage everyone to contact their elected officials to let them know that you want to make Kansas a healthier place to live and work through more smoking bans in our state.

— S. Graham Bailey

Vice President, Corporate Communications and Public Relations

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas