The University of Texas School of Public Health and Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, with the Texas Health Institute, conducted a study examining the potential health and economic impact of smoke-free working environments in Texas. The study included all public spaces and workplaces, including restaurants and bars. The study was commissioned late last year and recently completed.

The study, released by the Smoke-Free Texas Coalition and funded by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, concludes that implementation of a comprehensive statewide smoke-free workplace law could save the Texas economy $404 million in reduced health care costs and productivity savings biennially.

“As a doctor and a lawmaker, I see the impact of secondhand smoke to Texans from two perspectives: one from the health perspective and the other from the impact this law would have on the Texas budget,” said Rep. John Zerwas, M.D. (R-Simonton) House Committee on Appropriations on Article II. “This study’s results indicate that a statewide smoke-free workplace law would not only save money for the state’s economy, but would help improve the health of Texas employees and customers.”

Within the $404 million total biennial savings, the study authors found:

  • More than $108 million in reduced health care costs to nonsmokers that would not be exposed to secondhand smoke, including $32 million in medical costs that would be averted by reducing low-birthweight and premature births in areas of Texas with only partial or no smoke-free workplace legislation.
  • More than $142 million in reduced health care costs for smokers who quit as a result of the law.
  • More than $154 million in productivity cost savings for the state’s economy.

“The results of this study indicate extraordinary health care cost savings and productivity gains for the state’s economy: more than $404 million,” said Shelton Brown III, PhD, health economist and lead study researcher at The University of Texas School of Public Health.

A statewide smoke-free workplace law will have an extraordinary impact on health care costs due to low birth weight births in Texas. Every year, an estimated 325 babies are born with a low birth weight in areas of Texas with only partial or no smoke-free workplace legislation as a result of a mother’s exposure to secondhand smoke while she is pregnant.

“Our research team found that the Texas economy would directly benefit from the millions in savings accomplished through healthier workplace environments prompted by the passage of smoke-free workplace legislation,” said Klaus Kroyer Madsen, MPH, director of special projects at the Texas Health Institute. “It is clear, employees, employers, taxpayers and all Texans would benefit from the reduced exposure to secondhand smoke that would follow passage of this law.”

Secondhand smoke alone kills 46,000 Americans due to heart disease and 3,400 Americans due to lung cancer every year, excluding deaths in smokers themselves. Secondhand smoke exposure is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and is a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease, premature birth and low birth weight and other health problems.

“Our goal was to quantify the savings a statewide smoke-free workplace law would provide Texas,” said Craig Blakely, PhD, MPH, dean of Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health. “The results demonstrate millions saved through significant reductions in health care costs and other direct and indirect costs of secondhand smoke exposure such as increased worker productivity.”

The proposed legislation is supported by numerous organizations, local elected officials, faith leaders and individuals across the state.

“The millions of dollars saved through a statewide smoke-free workplace law adds to the growing list of reasons why such a law is necessary for Texas,” said James Gray, government relations director at the American Cancer Society. “A smoke-free workplace law would not only save lives, but would provide much-needed savings for our state in this critical time of massive budget constraints.”

Researchers focused on counties and municipalities where smoke-free policies do not already exist and took into account Texas cities with partial ordinances.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell