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Your recent editorial correctly argues that provincial governments should provide funding for smoking cessation as it is a highly cost-effective way to improve population health.1 Alas, the editorial then repeats a common error of confusing cost-effectiveness with cost-saving. There is, in fact, good evidence that while smoking cessation may reduce health care spending over the medium term, in the longer term (15 to 30 years) health care spending is actually increased.2
The explanation for this is perfectly simple: nonsmokers live longer and therefore incur expensive health care costs in old age. These additional costs exceed the lower expenditures of earlier years. Quite apart from increased health care spending there would be two additional negative effects on government finances if all smokers quit: Governments would lose the hefty revenues generated by tobacco taxes, and there would be increased spending on pension payments.
What applies to smoking also applies in other scenarios: the prevention of fatal diseases actually leads to an increase in health care spending.5 Indeed, our best evidence is that most medical interventions designed to prevent disease or improve health cause an increase in health care spending.6
Of course, the prevention of fatal diseases is undeniably of great value with regard to population health and should therefore be strongly supported. Moreover, prevention can often be much more cost-effective than many medical treatments.7 However, this is altogether different from decreasing health care spending.