Report: Smoking age raised in California leads to tremendous Medi-Cal savings

Aug 27, 2015, 06:00 ET from Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Aug. 27, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is a statement of Rob Crane, MD, Clinical Professor of Family Medicine at the Ohio State University and President of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation:

The Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation is today releasing a report analyzing the near-term fiscal impact of raising the tobacco sales age in California to 21. The report focuses entirely on two pregnancy-related outcomes: low birth-weight and premature births. The Foundation used projections from the comprehensive Institute of Medicine study released in March and adapted them to California. Projecting the cost of treating just these two conditions, the age 21 policy will immediately produce a net gain for taxpayers, even accounting for tobacco tax loss.  

During the current special legislative session in California, Senator Ed Hernandez introduced a bill to raise the smoking age to 21.  The California Board of Equalization estimates this policy will eventually save up to 2 billion dollars annually on health expenditures, much of it in the Medi-Cal population.  Examining the high cost of adverse birth outcomes, today's report demonstrates a substantial acceleration in those savings.

The Foundation report estimates that in the first five years this policy would substantially reduce smoking in pregnancy and prevent approximately 530 cases of preterm birth and 1,300 cases of low birth weight. This would save $102,000,000 in health care spending, of which more than $82,000,000 will be saved by Medi-Cal, while the tobacco tax revenue loss during this period would be $74,500,000.

Newborn illness is not only a terrifying event for the families involved, but is also Medi-Cal's second highest treatment expense.  A large fraction, unfortunately, is caused by maternal tobacco use. Tragically, pregnant women on Medi-Cal smoke at four-times the rate of those not covered, and Medi-Cal insures half of all California births.  However, the benefits of this policy extend to the business community as well, where treating preterm birth and low birth-weight on average costs more than $55,000 in the first year of life, according to the March of Dimes.

Age 21 for tobacco has already been shown to be effective, reducing high school smoking by fifty percent.  The Institute of Medicine's report also projects that if the policy were adopted nationally, it would save 4.2 million years of life in children alive today. Moreover, recent polling shows that more than 75% of the public, including 70% of smokers, support moving tobacco to age 21.  This report should silence critics complaining about tobacco tax loss and allow greater focus on better protecting California's kids from deadly addiction to nicotine and tobacco.

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SOURCE Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation