More smokers kicking the habit, study says

Adam Kosloff

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that fewer Americans are smoking cigarettes. Not only are these smokers spending less on their habit -- but they are likely spending less on health insurance, too.

Kicking the habit

This news comes out of data collected between 2005 and 2010. During that time, the percentage of American adults who smoke declined from 20.9 to 19.3 percent. A 1.6 percent decline might not seem like much -- but it accounts for roughly 4 million smokers.

The number of cigarettes habitual smokers smoked also decreased, with the number of Americans who smoke 30 or more cigarettes per day falling from nearly 13 percent of the population to 8 percent. However, the study also found that the number of "light smokers" was on the rise. Perhaps the former heavy smokers simply cut back and joined the ranks of lighter smokers -- but, as the report points out, even occasional smokers can end up with smoking-related health problems.

Another downside to the report: the number of American adults who smoked declined even more between 2000 and 2005 than it did over the last five years. So the rate of decline is slowing. However, any decline is a "step in the right direction," according to the CDC.

The cost of smoking

Tobacco use and secondhand smoke kill about 443,000 Americans every year and lead to nearly $200 billion in lost productivity and health care expenses, according to the CDC. That's because smoking has been linked to a number of chronic and costly diseases, including heart disease, stroke, bronchitis, emphysema, chronic airway obstruction and cancer.

Insurance companies and employers alike are well aware of those risks and costs. Health insurance and life insurance are both more expensive for smokers. And group health insurance plans (like the coverage you get through your employer) sometimes include perks for those who quit and punishments for those who can't kick the habit. Companies spend a lot of money providing their workers with benefits -- and those who have chronic smoking-related illnesses raise that cost.

In 2010, the Society for Human Resource Management surveyed 600 large employers. Nearly half said they impose penalties for unhealthy lifestyle choices -- or plan to within the next five years. Within that group, more than 60 percent said they favored smoker surcharges. In other words, to reduce the cost of providing health insurance benefits, many large employers are willing to pass on the extra costs to smokers. By quitting or staying smoke-free, you can keep your premiums low.