Secondhand smoke cost county $56 million
The cost of disease and death related to secondhand smoke was estimated at $56 million in Marion County in 2000, according to a report being released today by the county Health Department.
It estimated that $25 million was spent for adults suffering from ailments related to secondhand smoke, such as lung cancer and heart disease, and $31 million was spent for treating children for diseases, such as asthma and other respiratory conditions, caused by secondhand smoke. The study did not include the health costs for smokers themselves.
The issue has mobilized health officials and researchers across the country to decry tobacco's effects on non-smokers who are exposed to tobacco byproducts. Health officials say the smoke contains at least 250 chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic.
Secondhand smoke "is a significant contributor to adult and childhood morbidity and mortality in the United States," the study said.
The issue should resonate with Hoosiers because 27 percent of adults in the state smoke, which is nearly 4 percentage points higher than the national average of 23.2 percent. Indiana's smoking rate consistently ranks in the top 10 among all states. Researchers say the high rate translates into more disease and death -- for the smokers and for those who breathe their smoke.
Sandy Cummings, coordinator of the chronic disease program at the Health Department, said Wednesday that the study was done as the next step in its review of the effects of smoking on the population.
In the first-of-its-kind study in the county, four researchers calculated each diagnosed disease that could be attributed to secondhand smoke, then extrapolated costs per case. Included in the calculations are costs for "loss of life."
"We have a pretty good understanding of how many people are exposed to secondhand smoke in Marion County," Cummings said. "So this is the logical next step to talk about what it's costing us."
The study found that because of secondhand smoke, employer costs of disease and death are borne in higher health insurance premiums and lost productivity; taxpayers bear the costs of treatment for uninsured patients; and society "bears the burden of loss of life."
The cost in the county of sudden infant and perinatal deaths, and low birthweights related to secondhand smoke, was more than $20 million in 2000, while the biggest smoking killer, lung cancer, cost $7.9 million, it said.
Even though John Smith, managing director of the American Lung Association in Indianapolis, had not read the report, he was not surprised by the numbers.
"There is no question in our minds, based on the science, that secondhand smoke can be a factor in contributing to lung cancer, low-birthweight babies, (and) it exacerbates asthma and other respiratory problems," he said.
Cardiologist Hilton Hudson II said smoking "is the worst thing to be around or to do."
Hudson, an Indianapolis native, is vice president of cardiac surgery at Rockford (Ill.) Health Systems. He is also president of Hilton Publishing, which publishes books on health issues important to blacks.
"Lack of knowledge and awareness causes major detrimental effects" where smoking is concerned, Hudson said.
"Treat your body with more respect," he said. "You can't control racism, or your race, but you are certainly in control of what you put in your mouth."
Cummings said the goal of the study is to educate adults on the adverse health effects of smoking, especially as it relates to children.
A Health Department study of Indianapolis Public Schools middle schoolers found that "65 percent of those kids reported they lived in a home where someone smoked indoors," Cummings said.
But the study noted that Hoosiers aren't likely to respond to the findings immediately, Cummings said. Of 20 states surveyed on the issue of secondhand smoke, "Indiana was among the states having the lowest public support favoring restrictions on smoking."
"Hoosiers tend to believe that people have the right to smoke, but what about people's right to breathe smoke-free air?" Cummings said.
Dan Sherry, 42, bartender/manager at The Waters Edge restaurant and bar on the Northeastside, said the establishment does not have a no-smoking section, and the only complaints are when cigar smokers light up.
Sherry said he has been a smoker "for a long time" and hasn't thought much about secondhand smoke being a problem. He occasionally thinks about quitting for health reasons, he said, but is putting it off until he gets a job where it's not allowed.