When I heard that Health Minister Mike deJong suggested that British Columbia smokers may have to pay higher MSP premiums than non-smokers, my first reaction was, why not?
After all, unsafe drivers pay more for their car insurance, life insurance rates are higher for smokers and there are many other examples where there are financial consequences to risky behavior. But on further reflection, I think there are better ways to discourage people from smoking.
Twelve years ago, one in five British Colombians smoked. Now we are down to one in seven.
Media campaigns, youth-based intervention strategies, anti-tobacco advertising, antismoking bylaws, increased tobacco taxation all have contributed to this improvement.
Even though British Columbia leads the nation in the smoking cessation campaign, we still have a ways to go. B.C. smokers still lit up more than 4 billion cigarettes per year, or roughly 8,000 cigarettes annually for each of the half-million smokers amongst us. Many of the current smokers would like to quit, but do not know how to go about that.
Once one has started smoking for whatever reason, most people will discover that nicotine is a very addictive drug and legal to boot. And like any other addiction, difficult to control.
Nine out of ten people who attempt to quit without the use of one of the established cessation programs will relapse and often just give up and continue to smoke.
Until now, people had to pay for smoking cessation medications, but the government has removed that hurdle and will provide the nicotine replacement therapies at no cost and full financial reimbursement for other medications; a very positive move and one that will save the taxpayer money big time.
If just 10 per cent of B.C.’s smokers managed to quit, they would over their lifetimes save the provincial economy over $2 billion in avoided medical care costs and productivity losses. Or to put it in another way, we would save approximately $120 million annually in not having to spend that amount of taxpayer dollars on hospitals, doctors and other health care costs and economic productivity losses due to the premature death of smokers. That is a substantial amount of money that could be put to much better use.
I cringe each time I see a young person light up. As a doctor for nearly 50 years I have seen first hand what is ahead of all too many of them health wise. Anything we can do to discourage our youth from smoking is gain.
Research has shown that there is evidence of nicotine addiction among many 12 to 13-year-olds within days after lighting up their first few cigarettes. If they continue to smoke, many will die in middle-age and many more prematurely in later years. What a waste of human life !
The medical benefits of smoking cessation are proven and unambiguous. Where there is a will there is a way for achieving cessation.
We talk a lot about prevention of illness and premature death in society and most approaches are costly and not easy to achieve, but smoking cessation is among the most cost-effective.
As taxpayers, individual smokers and the economy as a whole, we can expect tremendous savings from a comprehensive tobacco control status strategy.
Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.