The death credit


New research says preventing obesity and smoking, while it saves lives, does not save money.

Dutch researchers today released a paper saying that from age 20 to 56, obese people racked up the most expensive health costs. But because both the smokers and the obese people died sooner than the healthy group, it cost less to treat them in the long run.

If this sounds at all familiar to you, it may be because this is the defense the tobacco industry tried to put up in the landmark case in Minnesota, won by attorney Mike Ciresi, who now is running for Senate.

The state was trying — and succeeded, as it turns out — to recover the cost of treating the the illnesses of smokers. The tobacco industry intended to argue that there weren’t extra costs in the long run, because the smokers died. But the judge in the case ruled the industry could not make such an argument.

It was called “the death credit argument,” according to a 1998 report from MPR reporter Elizabeth Stawicki.

“That’s one of the most absurd rulings in these cases I’ve ever seen anywhere, that you will keep evidence away from a jury because it’s horrendous,” said Phillip Morris attorney Peter Bleakley at the time. “There is absolutely no question whatsoever that cigarette smokers do not cost more in health care than nonsmokers. The net cost is less, but we’re not allowed to present that evidence because we would be taking advantage of the fact that our product kills people.

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