What’s the real cost of quitting?

October 29th, 2010 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Discontinued Pfizer ad: Hiroshi Kan is quitting, too

Pfizer poster: Tachi Hiroshi is quitting, too

Recently, the Health Labor and Welfare Ministry released the results of 15 years of research into the amount of money a person spends on health care during an entire lifetime. The research began in 1994, based on records of 52,000 male and female residents of Miyagi Prefecture aged between 40 and 79.

According to the research, a 40 year-old-man today with normal blood pressure could expect to live another 46.5 years and spent a total of ¥13.34 million for health care, which, if he has kokumin hoken (meaning individual national insurance rather than national insurance through an employer), means he would spend about ¥4 million out of pocket, given that patients have to cover 30 percent of a medical bill themselves. A man with high blood pressure can expect to live 44.8 years more and spend ¥17.1 million. The ministry makes no projections for women because the results were “too diverse.”

In terms of other lifestyle determinants, a person who walks more than one hour a day will live 1.5 years longer and spend ¥350,000 less than someone who walks less than one hour a day (on average). However, the most interesting estimate is that someone who smokes will live 3.7 fewer years than someone who doesn’t and will thus spend less during his lifetime on medical care than someone who doesn’t smoke, though the ministry doesn’t specify by how much. The rule of thumb is that elderly people spend exponentially more on health care than do younger people, so if smokers die before they get old, the government saves considerably.

This last bit of information is interesting in light of the current craze for quitting cigarettes (kinen gairai), which was prompted by the rise in the tobacco tax on Oct. 1. Since people can use their national insurance for treatement to quit smoking, the trend has put an extra burden on the government. According to a report in the Sankei Shimbun, one smoking clinic located in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, has reported that it signed up twice as many new patients in the first two weeks of October than it signed in the last two weeks of September. Almost all the clinics that accept insurance use the Pfizer prescription drug Champix, and the added burden has caused a severe shortage of the drug, so much so that Pfizer has suspended the TV advertising campaign it started in August. It is estimated that each clinic patient costs the government between ¥12,000 and ¥18,000, which is about what it costs a pack-a-day smoker to maintain his habit for a month.

Given these numbers, it’s easy to understand why the government isn’t aggressively pushing the no-smoking line. Not only are they missing out on all those potential tax revenues and paying out more in short-term medical costs for people who quit, but they will pay much more in the long run for people who actually do kick the habit, and the Nihonbashi clinic is claiming a 60 percent success rate.

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