Report reveals huge costs to be saved from further cuts to smoking rates

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A new report has revealed a massive $1.3 billion could be saved in Western Australia if smoking rates fall to just over 4% of all adult Western Australians. 

Internationally renowned health economists, Professors David Collins and Helen Lapsley, were commissioned by Cancer Council Western Australia to estimate the social costs of smoking in WA in 2009/10, as well as the potential benefits of any future reductions in smoking.

The study found that if smoking prevalence in WA reduced to a conservative 10% over 15 years, there would be a social benefit of more than $510 million, or just under $5,000 for each person prevented from smoking.

But it also found that if smoking rates continue to fall further to just over 4 per cent within 15 years, the results would be even more impressive.

“If smoking can be reduced to approximately 4% among West Australians adults, that would yield close to $1.3 billion in benefits and more than $6000 per person prevented from smoking,” Professor Collins said.

“This is a goal well worth pursuing purely on economic grounds, let alone to save lives and prevent pain and suffering caused by smoking,” he said.

The study estimates the total social costs of smoking to individuals, businesses and government and its impact on health care and productivity in the Western Australian community amount to nearly $3 billion a year.

Co-researcher Professor David Collins said the costs, after adjustment for price increases, have risen slightly since 2004/05, when a similar study in WA was conducted.

“Unfortunately these costs have increased over time despite a decline in the prevalence of smoking,” Professor Collins said.

He said that was due to a lag effect of past smoking on the population and on the workforce.

Professor Collins said it was individuals that bear the brunt of the costs, followed by private industry.

“Smoking costs individuals more than $1.4 billion annually representing more than two-thirds of the total tangible costs, while smoking costs businesses almost $730 million every year due to lost productivity representing almost one third of tangible costs.”

Governments bear just under 3% of all tangible costs of smoking, with smoking costing it $65.4 million.

Cancer Council WA Director of Education and Research, Terry Slevin, said the findings will help to redouble efforts. 

“This report helps identify why we need to continue to reduce smoking in WA as well as what we will gain if we do so,” Mr Slevin said.

“It provides us with an insight into the quantifiable costs of smoking to individuals, businesses and the government of West Australia, and they are massive,” he said.

Mr Slevin said more than half of the social costs are intangible costs (nearly $1,700 million) arising from loss of life.

“Pain and suffering are another real and legitimate cost of smoking, and while it is extremely difficult to quantify the enormous physical and emotional costs caused by smoking into numbers, the financial costs can be calculated.

Other findings from the study include;

•    There were 1,420 deaths and 65,573 bed-days attributed to tobacco, with hospital costs of $93.7 million.
•    This includes 11 deaths and 7,790 hospital bed-days caused by passive smoking, with hospital costs of $10.1 million attributed to passive smoking.
•    Over 96% of all hospital costs arising from passive smoking were attributable to patients in the 0 to 14 age group.
•    Lost productivity in the workforce and the household sector is estimated to be $862 million.
•    The costs of smoking-caused fires are estimated to be $24 million.

“We need to continue doing the work that has already saved the lives of tens of thousands of West Australians as a result of the reductions in smoking rates.  That includes supporting plain packaging and further tobacco price rises, as well as look at what more we can do to reduce smoking rates even further,” Mr Slevin said.

To access the full report ‘The social costs of smoking in Western Australia in 2009/10 and the social benefits of public policy measures to reduce smoking prevalence’ and the summary of the results go to


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