The state of California saved $86 billion in 15 years as a result of the state’s tobacco control program, which spent only $1.8 billion, according to new research. The study, from the University of California San Francisco, is the first to quantifiably connect tobacco control to savings in health care. 

“The benefits of the program accrued very quickly and are very large,” says senior author Stanton Glantz PhD, professor of medicine at UCSF.

The savings occurred because the program prevented 3.6 billion packs of cigarettes – worth $9.2 billion to the tobacco industry- from being smoked between 1989 and 2004.

Unlike most tobacco control programs that direct attention to preventing adolescents from becoming smokers, the California program focused on adult smokers and social norm change. This angle is credited for the rapid benefits, in terms of healthcare costs, that resulted from California’s program.

“When adults stop smoking, you see immediate benefits in heart disease, with impacts on cancer and lung diseases starting to appear a year or two later,” says Glantz. “Large scale tobacco control programs should be an integral part of the medical cost containment that everyone agrees must be part of any health care reform.”

The results of the study show that tobacco control programs reduce smoking, prevent disease, and also quickly and substantially reduce health care costs.