Secondhand Smoke May Cost $70 Per Person in US
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Health) - Wanna light up? Better ask your neighbors if they can afford it first. An estimate of the expenses associated with death and illness reveals that secondhand smoke may cost people in some US regions, if not the entire countr
The findings are based on an analysis of the costs associated with environmental exposure to tobacco for residents from Marion County, Indiana, according to Dr. Terrell W. Zollinger of Indiana University in Bloomington.
Among Marion County's population of around 800,000, Zollinger and his colleagues estimated that the cost of diseases and deaths that resulted from secondhand smoke reached $56.2 million in the year 2000 alone.
Of that total, $30.8 million stemmed from expenses linked to the premature deaths and illnesses in children exposed to secondhand smoke.
These findings demonstrate in very real terms how a person's choice to smoke is one that can impact an entire community, Zollinger said.
"There's a lot of people who say, 'well, if somebody else wants to smoke, that's fine. It doesn't affect me.' Well guess what? It does affect you," Zollinger said.
In Marion County, Zollinger said that smoking is banned from government buildings and sports arenas, but bars and restaurants are free to permit smoking, and people always can become exposed to secondhand smoke in their home or with friends.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Zollinger explained that he and his colleagues based their estimates on calculations of the costs associated with illnesses that are linked to secondhand smoke. In children, research suggests that breathing in cigarette smoke can increase their risk of asthma and having a relatively low weight at birth. Secondhand smoke in adults has been linked to many ills ranging from asthma, lung and cervical cancers, and stroke.
However, those illnesses can also have other causes, the researcher noted. To determine what proportion of the price tag on each illness stems from secondhand smoke, Zollinger and his team applied so-called risk estimates. For example, around 33% of asthma deaths in adults are believed to stem from secondhand smoke, and 14% of office visits in children due to ear infections have been linked to exposure to tobacco. Consequently, 33% of the total cost associated with death from asthma in adults could be attributed to secondhand smoke, Zollinger said.
Estimating the costs associated with loss of life was difficult, Zollinger admitted. He said he and his colleagues relied on a figure established earlier by the federal government, which placed the value of a human life to be at less than $1 million. He explained that he weighed that value according to how many years a person had lost as a result of an early death, with the death of a child--who lost perhaps 70 years of life--costing more than the death of an older adult, who had already realized most of his or her life expectancy.
Zollinger noted that he expected the total cost of secondhand smoke would be much higher in larger counties, and suggested that other counties estimate the expenses associated with secondhand smoke, as well.