01 Jul 2022

Column: Taxpayer smoking cessation bill saves money

Darren Hassett writing in this week's Kilkenny People...

Column: Taxpayer smoking cessation bill  saves money

The Kilkenny People revealed this week that smokers with medical cards in Kilkenny and Carlow cost the State more than €1.2 million over the last four years as they tried to kick the habit.

Kicking the habit of smoking is not easy and it is encouraging that over 8,000 “unique patient” medical card holders in Kilkenny and Carlow over the last four years made the decision to try.

I use the verb “try” quite deliberately here as we don’t know the outcomes of people’s efforts and whether the nicotine replacement therapies held the cravings at bay.

Maybe the “patients” stayed off the cigarettes; maybe they went back on them and needlessly spent public money. We don’t know and so we can only look at the figures for those who at least tried to quit and what it cost taxpayers.

The Kilkenny People revealed this week that smokers with medical cards in Kilkenny and Carlow cost the State more than €1.2 million over the last four years as they tried to kick the habit.

While that may seem like a lot and while non-medical card holders might wish they got the same financial assistance – it is inevitably saving money down the road.

A study – albeit a bit dated but still pertinent - carried out by the Department of Health found the healthcare costs of smoking related diseases to the Irish health services in 2013 was €466 million.

So, if providing €1.2million in subvention for smoking cessation to assist people with medical cards is saving more money down the road, isn’t it a worth while investment?

Of course it is, the only issue I can see is that there’s an argument to be made that all smokers – irrespective of whether they’re eligible for medical cards – should be provided with free nicotine replacement therapies.

I myself smoked for much of my late teen years and for the first half of my twenties and I found it incredibly hard to quit.

But I just decided on New Year’s Day of last year that enough was enough and I gave them up.

My father smoked for years also but quit when he and my mother had their first child.

He always had an issue with my smoking, as most parents would.

Speaking to me one evening at home - before I had given up - he said: “Smoking will not get you today, it will not get you tomorrow, but it will get you”.

That advice fed into my decision to pack smoking in, although it took a while for the foresight of my father to eventually sink in. But once it did, it was clear what I needed to do.

I quit through pure willpower and despite a few relapses; I haven’t bought a packet of cigarettes since January 2016 and I haven’t smoked (accounting for the relapses) since about September of that same year. That’s my quitting cigarettes story.

It’s likely that I wouldn’t have used the patches, gum, lozenges or nasal spray but there probably are people out there trying to quit and are struggling. They might feel the nicotine replacement therapy would be helpful but find the costs prohibitive.

Nicotine replacement therapies are available to medical card holders free of charge with a doctor’s prescription and kudos to those who go to their GPs looking to quit – that’s a big step. But what about non-medical card holders?

The national campaign by the HSE to get people to quit has been hugely successful and the website is full of testimonials of the kind of support people have experienced.

Those who sign-up get everything from motivational texts to phone calls checking how they’re getting on in their efforts. But will that work for everyone?

The cost of providing the products to medical card holders looking to quit smoking in Kilkenny was €256,211 in 2013; €189,451 in 2014; €224,768 in 2015 and €232,547 in 2016.

That’s money well spent provided people stay off the cigarettes. Maybe the funding should be extended to non-medical card holders as well. Anything to help all smokers quit. 

For more on this story, click here.

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