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How can Ohio kick its tobacco habit?


How can Ohio kick its tobacco habit?

Feb 05, 2024 | 4:30 am ET
By Rob Moore
How can Ohio kick its tobacco habit?
Cigarette brands manufactured by Reynolds Amercian are displayed at a tobacco shop. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20,200 Ohioans die from smoking-related illnesses each year.

Ohio is going through the worst overdose crisis in its history, with 5,300 Ohioans dying of drug overdose in 2021. That means tobacco is killing more than three times as many Ohioans as drug overdoses.

Ohio’s smoking rate is one of the highest in the country, coming only behind West Virginia, Kentucky, and Louisiana in the percentage of residents who smoke. So people are dying of tobacco use, and they are continuing to smoke.

To combat this pervasive public health program, local governments, spurred by public health activists, have been working to reduce access to tobacco products. On Jan. 1, the City of Columbus enacted bans on flavored tobacco and menthol cigarettes, two types of tobacco that appeal to children and kickstart lifetime addiction habits.

To prevent this ban from going into effect, the Ohio General Assembly included a provision into the state budget bill to reverse bans like this. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who has made protecting children and public health big parts of his policy priority over his years as governor, vetoed the measure. Republicans in the General Assembly then overrode that veto.

Senate President Matt Huffman has said he wants to engineer a compromise between big tobacco and the governor’s office on tobacco regulation in the state.

If we want to be honest about what the real policy rub is here, it’s obvious: public health versus economic growth. Those defending the tobacco companies are worried that regulations will be bad for the economy.

So let’s say we wanted to reduce unnecessary death and help the economy…is that possible?

According to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, it is. This institute has conducted cost-benefit meta-analyses on hundreds of programs states can sponsor, estimating their economic benefits and costs and confidence in their results. The Institute has conducted analyses of a number of programs that could reduce tobacco use and grow the economy.

One of the most effective interventions is providing access to tobacco quitlines. This is a relatively low-cost intervention that has the potential for large benefits. While reductions in health care costs associated with smoking pay for the program on its own, it also has been found to increase wages for participants and reduce chance of death. All these lead to tobacco quitlines being good tools for saving lives and growing the economy.

Another very effective program is anti-smoking media campaigns, which also reduce health care spending, increase wages, and save lives. These campaigns are even cheaper per participant than quitlines, leading to very large benefits for society compared to the costs of the program.

A more tailored program for children is the Model Smoking Prevention Program, a classroom program for older elementary and middle-school children. This program is similarly very cheap while leading to higher wages, lower health care spending, and lives saved.

This is only a few of the many options available in the Washington State Institute for Public Policy’s database. The Ohio General Assembly has options if it wants to reduce the impact of tobacco on children and the public.