Recently, the company I work for had to renew its insurance policy. To our surprise, our premiums increased by 60%. And, when we began shopping around, we learned no other company would give us any better of a deal.
Doing some research on the matter, I discovered our company wasn’t alone in this. Most other companies were also experiencing a drastic increase in their premiums. And, some were even dropping their insurance just so their employees could take the state sponsored insurance instead.
At the pace this trend is continuing, most Americans will find themselves without adequate medical insurance and, since they probably won’t be able to pay the bills out of pocket, our health care industry will suffer.
After much thought and study, I’ve concluded the best solution to the problem is banning tobacco use in the United States.
I’m not just talking about banning smoking in public. I am referring to making it illegal to sell tobacco products in this country and treating those who sell cigarettes as criminals.
I know this isn’t going to be popular among the estimated 26% of Americans who currently smoke cigarettes. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right decision.
Let’s look at the facts.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans spend roughly $75.5 billion in health care costs directly related to people who smoke. That is in addition to nearly $100 billion in lost productivity due to smoking related illnesses and deaths.
In 1997, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that health care costs for smokers are 40% higher than those of non-smokers. Since many smokers use tax-payer funded health care, it means everybody absorbs the cost.
And, you shouldn’t mistake this as me blaming smokers for all our problems. I don’t. My dad has smoked cigarettes since he was 17 and has failed numerous times to quit, so I understand how hard that is. But, as a non-smoker, I can’t justify paying their health care costs with my tax dollars and insurance premiums that take up 25% of my paycheck.
I also realize an immediate ban on smoking just isn’t going to work. It’ll have the same disastrous results as prohibition in the 1920s and 30s.
However, I think a gradual ban would work.
The first step is the one you are already seeing in states, passing higher taxes on cigarettes. A $3 increase per pack will serve two purposes. First, it will help us pay for the added health care costs. And, since smokers will be paying more out of pocket, they will be smoking less and possibly will voluntarily quit.
The next step in the process is raising the minimum age to buy cigarettes, which is currently 18 in most states. I would start with an increase to 21 (the same as the drinking age in most states) and gradually increase it every couple of years until all age groups are encompassed.
The advantage of doing this is you’re not making those people who already smoke criminals. But, you are making it harder for the tobacco industry to add new smokers and eventually the overall number will be reduced.
When doing this, we also need to look at how we are punishing those who do sell to underage smokers. Currently, it’s a fine. In the future, it should be a revocation of a company’s tobacco license. And, it should be a $1,000 fine for any adult, including a parent, who buys cigarettes for an underage person.
In addition to that, we need to be stricter on how cigarette companies advertise themselves. All cigarette advertising should be banned. And, since many kids imitate the adults they see in Hollywood movies, any movie that has a character smoking in it should automatically receive an “R” rating. Since restricted ratings usually mean box office death, most filmmakers will probably put their own smoking ban in place.
Our health care problems aren’t going away and it’s time we took drastic measures to solve the problem; even if that means criminalizing a drug that has been legal throughout our entire history.