AP photoIn 2009

Study: Tobacco use toll drops in California, but smoking still more deadly than AIDS

Smoking is more fatal and its associated health care costs are likely much more expensive in California than AIDS, Alzheimer’s or diabetes, according to a study published today by UC San Francisco researchers.

However, the toll of smoking in the state actually decreased between 1999 and 2009 after rising the previous decade, from 1989 to 1999, said Wendy Max, the study’s principal investigator and a professor of health economics at the UCSF School of Nursing and director of the UCSF Institute for Health and Aging.

The study is the third in a series of reports published every 10 years on costs attributed to smoking in California. It was conducted over three years at the Institute for Health and Aging thanks to a grant from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program of the University of California’s Office of the President.

In 2009, the most recent year examined, smoking cost $18.1 billion. That figure includes the annual cost of all smoking-related illnesses, death or health care expenditures regardless of when a person first became ill.

That number is up from the $15.8 billion associated with smoking in the state in 1999, but when adjusted for inflation it marks a 22 percent decline, according to the study. That differs from the previous decade, which saw $7.6 billion in smoking-related health care spending in 1989, about half what it cost in 1999.

The number of smokers in California also declined from a decade ago, though nearly 4 million adults still smoked in 2009, according to the study.

“We know that people are smoking at lower rates than they were smoking at 10 years ago, [but] that doesn’t even tell the whole story because people who continue to smoke are smoking fewer cigarettes per day,” Max said.

Of adults who smoked, some 60 percent abstained some days or consumed fewer than 10 cigarettes a day. Additionally, 17.2 percent of men and 10.1 percent of women smoked, and the cost of smoking was higher for men than women – $11.7 billion versus $6.4 billion, respectively.

Smoking also accounted for 34,363 deaths in California in 2009. That is 17 times the number of deaths from AIDS; five times the number of deaths from diabetes, influenza and pneumonia; and three times the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and unintended injuries.

San Francisco saw “about average” health care costs compared to other California counties, accounting for $380 million of the $18.1 billion in 2009, Max said.

“The City has a long history of…adopting policies that promote smoke-free environments,” said Susana Hennessey-Lavey, a health educator for the Department of Public Health.

Next week, Supervisor Eric Mar is expected to introduce an ordinance to the Board of Supervisors that would limit the number of tobacco permits issued to 45 within each of the 11 supervisor district. Currently, there are 970 tobacco permits in The City, down from 1,086 in 2011, though they continue to be disproportionately distributed in low-income and denser neighborhoods such as the Tenderloin and Chinatown, Hennessey-Lavey said.

The ordinance would follow 2008 legislation that banned the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies in San Francisco.

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