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posted: 12/13/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Illinois' leadership on quit-smoking programs

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It's easy to get melancholy about the state we live in. Illinois' corruption, the number of taxing bodies rooting around our wallets, pension crises and debt rank among the worst of the 50 states. We issue plenty of reminders about that.

So when Illinois leads the nation in something positive, we're duty bound to crow about it.

The American Lung Association this week issued its annual report, "Helping Smokers Quit: Tobacco Cessation Coverage 2012," which examines each state's tobacco cessation coverage.

Turns out Illinois is among just four states that provide comprehensive coverage for state employees' attempts to quit -- through medicines and counseling.

And Illinois is among nine states that require private insurance plans to cover tobacco cessation treatments. None is as populous as Illinois.

We've long been advocates of eliminating smoking. It kills more than 400,000 people a year in the U.S. And it's one of those insidious practices that kills not only the users but those around them.

Secondhand smoke alone kills about 50,000 people a year.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in this country.

Illinois has been progressive in its approach to protecting nonsmokers and earnest in its mission to encourage smokers to quit. Consider its near abolition in public places, including bars, restaurants and casinos.

This should not be a big surprise.

In the age of the Affordable Care Act, quitting smoking has also become a matter of economics.

One in six people in this country dies from a lung-related disease. The American Lung Association pegs the economic costs in the U.S. of tobacco use at $193 billion a year.

In a 2008 report, the association noted that as incidences of heart disease and cancer were on the wane, lung diseases were on the rise.

Set aside the notion that the more people quit, the more lives will be saved. From a purely economic vantage point, it behooves us to ensure that anyone who wants to quit smoking get the needed help. We're increasingly all swimming in the same health care pool, after all. Healthier state employees mean fewer medical bills for all of us.

What worries the American Lung Association is that the federal government did not establish overarching rules for dealing with the issue, effectively leaving it to the states to establish their level of participation.

"We know that the majority of smokers want to quit, but the often inadequate state and federal coverage for effective quit-smoking programs and treatments prevents too many from getting the cessation help they need," said Harold Wimmer, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in Greater Chicago.

At least we can breathe easy knowing Illinois is out front on that effort.

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