Cancer Deaths from Smoking Cigarettes Cause Billions in Lost Earnings


A new study found that reduced tobacco use lowered deaths, person-years of lost life, and lost earnings across many states nationwide.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society (ACS) found that deaths from cigarette smoking in 2019 led to more than 2 million person-years of lost life (PYLL)—a measure of premature mortality—and $21 billion in lost earnings. This particularly affected states with weak tobacco control policies, according to the study, which was published in the International Journal of Cancer.

“Our study provides further evidence that smoking continues to be a leading cause of cancer-related death and to have a huge impact on the economy across the US,” said study lead author Farhad Islami, MD, PhD, senior scientific director, cancer disparity research at the American Cancer Society, in a press release.

In 2019, approximately 123,000 people in the United States died of cancer from smoking cigarettes, which accounted for nearly 30% of all cancer deaths. The study authors sought to estimate the proportion and number of cigarette smoking-attributable cancer deaths and explore its relationship to an individual’s PYLL and lost earnings.

Researchers examined statewide education-specific data—including employment status, wages, and smoking-attributable mortality by socioeconomic status for participants in the United States (national and by state) between 25 and 79 years of age, and its relationship to cancer deaths. This is because individuals with lower socioeconomic status suffer from more smoking-attributable cancer deaths.

Researchers then evaluated multiple cancers associated with smoking cigarettes, including oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colorectum, liver, intrahepatic bile duct, pancreas, larynx, lung and bronchus, cervix, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and acute myeloid leukemia cancers.

The authors observed that states with weaker tobacco control policies (majority South and Midwest) experienced disproportionately higher deaths. This finding connected to annual PYLL rates, which were 46.8% higher than states with restrictive laws. The loss of earnings for the weak-policy states was 44% higher and almost $5 million more per 100,000 people, according to the study.

Utah experienced the lowest PYLL rate. Had all states shared its rate, the overall PYLL and lost earnings would have decreased by 50%.

“Increasing the price of cigarettes through excise taxes is the single most effective policy for reducing smoking. In many states, state tobacco excise tax rate remains low, particularly in the states with the highest smoking rates,” said senior author Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, senior vice president, surveillance and health equity science at the American Cancer Society, in a press release.

“To end the scourge of tobacco on this country, reduce the health disparities it inflicts, and decrease tobacco-related diseases like cancer, we need local, state, and federal lawmakers to pass proven tobacco control policies, including regular and significant tobacco tax increases, comprehensive statewide smoke-free laws, adequate funding for state tobacco prevention and cessation programs and ensure all Medicaid enrollees have access to comprehensive tobacco cessation services including all three types of counseling and all FDA-approved medications,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, in a press release. “We have the tools to get this done, we just need lawmakers to act.”


New study shows two million life-years lost and $21 billion in lost earnings annually due to smoking associated cancer deaths. EurekAlert! Aug 10, 2022. Accessed Aug 10, 2022.

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