Nationwide, about one in five individuals smokes. That rate holds true in our state, where nearly 19 percent of Arizonans use tobacco.
When only 5 percent of smokers who try to quit without medical aid actually succeed, and the average smoker attempts to quit between six and nine times over a lifetime, it is evident that these individuals need assistance and access to programs and treatments that could help them quit for good.
Fortunately, there are dozens of treatment options for those individuals who can afford them, from gums and patches to sprays and lozenges.
When it comes to smoking cessation, research shows that counseling and nicotine replacement therapy delivers the best results. But unfortunately, smoking cessation treatments hadn’t been available for many of Arizona’s most needy residents until now.
The Arizona Legislature has passed and Gov. Janet Napolitano has signed Senate Bill 1418, which allows the state’s Medicaid Program — the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System — to provide smoking cessation medications to eligible members.
The measure, which I sponsored, will have no impact whatsoever on the state’s General Fund. It will be funded by tobacco taxes which were meant to be used to reduce smoking in Arizona. This appropriate use of the tax will render long-term savings to taxpayers, and will improve the health of our state’s residents.
Until now, Arizona was one of just seven states that did not cover smoking cessation programs through its Medicaid program. Now that it does, AHCCCS will be eligible to collect nearly 67 percent in federal matching funds to cover the costs of these benefits.
AHCCCS spends about $316 million each year on smoking-related illnesses — totaling about 14 percent of the system’s costs. That number could be reduced by $129 million in just five years if all current Medicaid smokers quit. State expenditures could be reduced by $6 million if 5 percent of Medicaid smokers quit, $13 million if 10 percent of smokers quit, and $65 million if half quit.
It is estimated that 36 percent of Medicaid recipients are smokers — significantly higher than the national average of 21 percent, according to figures from the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This makes encouraging quitting among this population even more urgent.
With tobacco as the nation’s leading cause of preventable death, we can now help all Arizonans kick the smoking habit — allowing them to lead brighter, more healthful lives and at the same time ultimately saving Arizona taxpayers millions of dollars.
Sen. Barbara Leff is a Republican from Paradise Valley.