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Department of Health: Tobacco Use Reduction Saves $1B in Health Care Costs

Wayne Yoshioka

The State Department of Health unveiled its latest report, Hawai’i’s Tobacco Landscape, to announce the achievement of a major milestone in its prevention efforts. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Reducing tobacco use in Hawai’i over the last 17 years has resulted in an estimated health care cost savings of 1 billion dollars, not to mention the pain and suffering it causes.  Department of Health director, Dr. Ginnie Pressler.


“Tobacco use is still the number one cause of morbidity and mortality in Hawai’i as well as in the rest of the United States.  It’s not just lung cancer, its other kinds of cancer as well.  It’s heart disease, it contributes to Type II Diabetes.  There are so many devastating impacts of tobacco use.”


Credit Wayne Yoshioka
(L-R) Lola Irvin, Dr. Ginnie Pressler, Ranjani Starr, Sharlene Chun-Lum, and Jessica Yamauchi


Since 2000, there has been a 34 percent decrease in tobacco use among adults, youth and pregnant women -- who risk pre-term delivery and underdeveloped newborns.  A portion of the state’s tobacco settlement special fund is used for prevention and control efforts.  Ranjani Starr is the state’s chronic disease epidemiologist.


“From 2000 to 2017, Hawai’i has invested $151.4 million in tobacco prevention and control.  This means that for every dollar we have spent, we have saved $6.64b in healthcare cost savings.”


Tobacco Cessation programs have helped 12-thousand people quit smoking.  People like Donita Garcia, who quit after 50 years and endured hardships for a six-dollar pack of cigarettes.


Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Donita Garcia (left) and her tobacco treatment specialist, Allie Hall

“I was homeless at one point in my life because of drug addiction.  And, during that time, I would collect recyclables to get cigarettes.  And I knew exactly h9w many I needed every day.  I needed 128 to get one pack of cigarettes a day.  And that was not counting food, drugs or something to drink.  That was just for the cigarettes.”


Hawai’i currently has the 3rd lowest smoking rate in the nation but high-prevalence groups like Native Hawaiians those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and those with behavioral health conditions or are from lower socio economic status…will be focus of future prevention efforts.   Also, the use of electronic smoking devices, especially among youth, is proving to be addictive to one in four high school students.  Health Director, Dr. Pressler.


“The distressing information is that while we’ve reduced tobacco use, one quarter of our high school students today are vaping or using e-cigarettes.  This is tragic.  It shouldn’t be.”


According to the Department of Health, 14-hundred adults die each year from smoking-related causes.  Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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