American Lung Association prefers $20-a-pack cigarettes

The health and economic costs to Minnesota from smoking are pegged at $5 billion a year.
The health and economic costs to Minnesota from smoking are pegged at $5 billion a year.

Minnesota smokers might wince every time they put down an average $5.53 for a pack of cigarettes, but the American Lung Association says that's a bargain.

If you tally up all the costs that everyone in the state has to absorb in order to accommodate nicotine fixes, the real price of the habit ought to be $20.83 a pack, the group says.

The figures come from a just-released Pennsylvania State University study, which calculates the health and economic downsides of smoking in Minnesota run in excess of $5 billion every year. Nationally, the figure is $117 billion.

But that's not the whole story.

The statistics are assembled to make the economic case for insurance coverage of smoking cessation programs, especially those that make use nicotine replacement therapies using compounds called bupropion and vareniclineIf.

It turns out that vareniclineIf is the generic name for a prescription-only pill called Chantix. That pill is made by Pfizer.

And it turns out that Pfizer was a sponsor of the Penn State research and report on which the American Lung Association campaign is based.

The Lung Association's Bob Moffitt said he couldn't speak for Penn State, and the companies that fund its research, but he was comfortable with the dovetailing of Pfizer's interests with anti-smoking advocates.

"You should know who's paying for research. You should be a good consumer," he agreed. "But we've been calling for comprehensive coverage for tobacco cessation for a long, long time."

Minnesota lawmakers, he points out, were the first to pass a state-wide smoking ban, and the first to reach a settlement with tobacco companies to help defray the state costs of tackling health issues related to smoking.

His group and others will use the Penn State study to show lawmakers it makes budget sense to offer smoking cessation coverage through Medicaid because it offers a huge return on investment, Moffitt said.

If that means that Pfizer gets to move more product, so be it.

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