By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for The Havre Daily News
Together, tobacco and poverty create a devastating scenario. Tobacco use tends to be higher among the poor in most countries, including the United States. Poor families, in turn, spend a larger proportion of their income on tobacco. Money spent on tobacco is money not spent on basic human needs.
World No Tobacco Day is sponsored by the World Health Organization every year on May 31. Its purpose is to call attention to the serious impact of tobacco use on health. The theme for this year's day is "Tobacco and Poverty: A Vicious Circle." The health-damaging effects of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke are well documented. WNTD 2004 is intended to raise public awareness of the damaging economic impacts tobacco use inflicts on people living in poverty.
There are several ways in which tobacco use increases poverty at the individual, household and national levels.
For the poor, money spent on tobacco is money not spent on basic necessities like food, shelter, education and health care. Tobacco use also contributes to the poverty of individuals and families since tobacco users are at much higher risk of falling ill and dying prematurely of cancer, heart attacks, respiratory diseases or other tobacco-related illnesses, thus depriving families of much-needed income and imposing additional health care costs.
Countries suffer huge economic losses as a result of high health care costs and lost productivity due to tobacco-related illness and premature deaths. Even in high-income countries, the overall annual cost of health care attributed to tobacco use is estimated to be as high as 15 percent of all health care costs. In the United States, tobacco use accounted for more than $157 billion in annual health-related economic losses between 1995 and 1999.
Families and individuals living at or below the poverty level are the ones who can least afford these costs. Unfortunately, the prevalence of smoking is higher among adults living below the poverty level (32.3 percent) than those living at or above the poverty level (23.5 percent). The money that poor households spend on tobacco products represents a significant percentage of annual income. For example, a pack-a-day cigarette habit can cost as much as $1,000 annually for tobacco purchases alone, to say nothing of the lost productivity and health care costs due to tobacco-related illnesses.
To illustrate the impact of the cost of a pack-a-day habit, consider that an 18-year-old who invested the money he or she otherwise would have spent on a pack-a-day habit in an account paying 7 percent interest annually would accumulate:
$18,993 by age 29.
$52,146 by age 39.
$117,363 by age 49.
$376,315 by a retirement age of 65.
To illustrate the impact of economic loss, consider:
Smoking prevention costs about $20 to $40 per year of life gained.
Treatment of lung cancer caused by tobacco use costs about $18,000 per year of life gained.
WHO urges people everywhere to make responsible decisions regarding their lives and their health and to protect future generations from the preventable death and disease caused by tobacco.
For more information about quitting smoking or other tobacco-related information, contact the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line at 265-6206.
The number for Montana's toll-free call-in service for tobacco users who want to kick the habit is (866) 485-7848.