According to a recent study by the Society of Actuaries (SOA) the effects of secondhand smoke exposure are costing the U.S. about $10 billion dollars annually in medical bills, lost wages, and health-related services.
These figures were determined through a careful review by the SOA and a researcher at Georgia State University business school of more than 200 studies published since 1964.
The SOA (http://www.soa.org) is an educational and research organization of business professionals who analyze the financial consequence of risk in order to provide expert advice and relevant solutions for financial, business, and societal problems.
The study, which is one of the first to address the overall economic effects of secondhand smoke exposure, determined the costs of the various illnesses attributable to or associated with secondhand smoke including lung cancer, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, spontaneous abortion, and chronic pulmonary and coronary artery diseases.
The estimated direct medical costs for secondhand smoke per year in the U.S. totaled $4.982 billion. Some of the most costly diseases were lung cancer ($1.91 billion), asthma ($773 million), chronic pulmonary disease ($1.215 billion), and coronary heart disease ($2.452 billion). The total cost for lost wages and fringe benefits from these diseases was $4.683 billion.
The researchers also connected secondhand smoke exposure in the home and in public space to an increased incidence of disease and documented the number additional cases caused by these types of exposure.
Donald Behan, Fellow of the SOA and lead researcher for the project, said that while not as dangerous as firsthand smoke, secondhand exposure to tobacco presents a very serious and costly health risk.
According to Behan: "While the health effects of secondhand smoke are reduced in comparison to active smoking, the number of people exposed is so large that the costs are substantial. As our research shows, even though exposure to secondhand smoke has been greatly reduced over the last 15 years, it remains a public health concern with an economic impact in the U.S. of many billions of dollars per year."
Although this study probably will not have an impact on current litigation against the tobacco industry or individual tobacco companies, Edward L. Sweda, senior attorney with the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law (Boston, Massachusetts) believes that pinning down the costs of secondhand smoke may be helpful in the public-policy debate.
It could also lead to separate insurance premium pricing for nonsmokers who have been exposed to environmental smoke. According to Tim Harris, a member of the SOA board of governors, health insurers may institute higher charges for those exposed to secondhand smoke. At the moment, tests for secondhand smoke inhalation are not very reliable but insurance companies could ask specific questions about exposure to determine those at greater risk.