Letter: Smokefree Workplaces bill needs consideration

The Alaska Legislature has recently formed a new sub-committee to look at two bills designed to reduce Medicaid costs. Though changing how health care is delivered to Alaskans will be an effective effort, the bill that is missing from their consideration is SB 1, the Smokefree Workplaces bill.

Cigarette smoking is the No. 1 cause of poor health, disease and death, costing the state of Alaska $536 million in direct medical costs and lost productivity. This amount does not include the health effects from second- and third-hand smoke exposure.

Alaska is one of only 16 states that doesn’t have a smoke-free workplace law. Forty-two percent of the population is not protected from exposure to second-hand smoke in their workplaces.

According to the CDC, 29 percent of Medicaid recipients are smokers and Medicaid recipients smoke at two-times the rate of people with private insurance. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 60 percent of the money spent to treat tobacco related illnesses in the U.S. was paid by government sources.

The U.S. smoking rate has declined by 50 percent in the last 50 years. However, targeted by the tobacco industry and exposed to second-hand smoke in low-wage jobs, the smoking rate for low-income people has not changed.

The most effective way to reduce smoking rates and smoking-related illness is to adopt smoke-free workplace policies. Studies show that after adopting smoke-free workplace policies, rates of hospitalizations for heart attack, stroke, asthma and lung disease were reduced by 15 to 20 percent almost immediately (Circulation. 2012;126:2177-2183).

In addition, rates of preterm birth and babies born small decreased between 5 to 11 percent a year after country-wide smoke-free laws were adopted in Ireland and Scotland (PLoS Med. 2012;9:e1001175). About $300,000 was saved over three years in a small town in Mississippi for the treatment of heart attacks alone (ttac.org/resources/pdfs/120810_Miss_Heart_Attack_Report.pdf). While Germany saw a $6.9 million (20.1 percent) decrease in heart attack-related hospitalization costs during the first year after smoke-free law implementation.

It is estimated by the Alaska Tobacco Prevention and Control Annual Report that adopting a smoke-free workplaces law would save Medicaid, in our state, about $500,000 over five years.

Smoke-free workplaces save money and lives.

Michael Patterson,

Spokesperson, Juneau Clean Air Coalition

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