CHICAGO California's large-scale tobacco control campaign has saved $86 billion in health care costs in its first 15 years, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
The $86 billion reduction in health costs, based on 2004 dollars, represents about a 50-fold return on the $1.8 billion California spent on the program, they said.
"The benefits of the program accrued very quickly and are very large," Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, said in a statement.
Unlike many programs which center on teens, the California program focuses its tobacco-control efforts on adults through an aggressive media campaign and changes in public policy, such as promoting smoke-free environments.
"When adults stop smoking, you see immediate benefits in heart disease, with impacts on cancer and lung diseases starting to appear a year or two later," said Glantz, whose findings appear in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine.
According to the study, the program prevented the sale of 3.6 billion packs of cigarettes -- worth $9.2 billion to the tobacco industry -- between 1989 and 2004.
The report may help persuade states to step up funding for such large-scale efforts to counteract the tobacco industry's $13 billion annual spending on smoking-related advertising and promotions.
A report by the National Cancer Institute last week found such advertising increases tobacco use. But it also found that large-scale tobacco control campaigns work, and called for more funding of such efforts.
Tobacco accounts for one in 10 adult deaths worldwide and is the leading preventable cause of death in the world, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, smoking kills more than 400,000 people prematurely each year.
To study the effects of California's program, Glantz and colleagues used statistical models that looked at the relationships between per capita spending on cigarettes and health costs between 1980 and 2004.
They compared these with information gathered from 38 states that had no comprehensive tobacco control efforts and that had only increased cigarette taxes by 50 cents per pack within the study period.
The researchers saw a steady rise in cost savings from the start of the program in 1996 until the study ended in 2004, despite major cuts in the program's funding.
If the state had maintained original funding levels at about $80 million per year, total health cost savings would have exceeded $150 billion over the 15-year period, they said.
Glantz said the study shows tobacco control programs not only reduce smoking and prevent disease, but also quickly and significantly reduce health care costs.
The study can be found here
(Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Walsh)