2009.04.22 Cigarettes and Texans united to save us $$$$$

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

It seems everywhere I look lately, there’s somebody trying to turn conventional wisdom on its ear. Like the recent news that, contrary to what we’ve heard for years, health care costs for smokers is actually less than those for non-smokers.

Remember all the billions of dollars that the tobacco industry had to, ahem, cough up a few years ago to repay the states for costs attributed to sick smokers? Now, several researchers say it is the non-smoker who really costs the most money for health care.

One study claims that from age 20 on, non-smokers average health care costs total $417,000. For smokers, the amount averages $326,000 per person, a savings of over $90,000 per smoker.

This flies in the face of recent legislation that seeks to give the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products. According to an Associated Press story, proponents of the bill quoted numbers from the Center for Disease Control that say smokers cost the economy $96 billion a year in health care costs.

However, they left out CDC figures that state due to smokers dying sooner than non-smokers, there are huge savings in Medicare, Social Security, pensions and various other programs. Obviously, dying sooner is a bad thing, but if you want to talk about costs, there are unfortunately extra costs involved when a non-smoker lives longer.

“It looks unpleasant or ghoulish to look at the cost savings as well as the cost increases and it’s not a good thing that smoking kills people,” said Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi, “but if you’re going to follow this health-cost train all the way, you have to take into account all the effects, not just the ones you like in terms of getting your bill passed.”

Viscusi has done a study of costs and savings related to smoking and his findings show that for each pack of cigarettes smoked, the country has a net cost savings of 32 cents. A two-pack-a-day smoker would save the country over $230 a year.

Now what happens when the tobacco companies ask for their billions of dollars back? And is it now somehow patriotic to light up? Save the economy, take up smoking?

Come to think of it, President Obama is a smoker. Could he possibly smoke enough to rescue the economy by himself? Not likely. He would need a lot of help. Maybe the nation’s newest Democrat could lend him a hand.

The newest Democrat? That would be a frequent subject of the column you’re reading, namely singer/songwriter/author/ salsa-olive oil-cigar magnate/politician Kinky Friedman.

When last we visited Kinky, he had finished a dismal fourth in his independent campaign for governor of Texas. Since then, he has been pursuing his various business interests and trying to sell an apparently huge leftover inventory of “Kinky in ‘06” merchandise. Now, he’s made a decision on his political future. He’s going to run for Texas governor in 2010 as a Democrat.

Kinky’s announcement makes this sound like the most natural thing to do. His statement included a list of Texas Democrats through history that he admired, including Sam Houston. That’s an interesting choice because during his 2006 campaign, he always referred to Houston as the last independent governor of Texas. Now, he’s become a Democrat overnight, just like Kinky.

A Reader’s Digest profile last year referred to Kinky as “a man of the people—but mostly inebriated people.”  I guess if they’re drunk enough, it won’t matter which party he belongs to. He used to say that the Republicans and Democrats were like paper and plastic. So does that mean he’s now the plastic candidate? Or paper? He never did explain which was which.

Kinky will have to strike up a relationship with President Obama. He’s already friends with Bill Clinton and Bushes 41 and 43. He was also a buddy of John McCain, but Obama stopped him from becoming the fourth Friedman pal in a row in the White House. But now that Kinky’s a Democrat, he has enough in common with the President to start a friendship.

Kinky was born in Chicago, so they have that Illinois connection. Kinky is also famous for smoking cigars and sells his own line of them, so perhaps he could persuade President Obama to switch from cigarettes to “Kinkycristos.” And with both of them smoking cigars, who knows how much in health care costs they can save us?

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