Young may get help to stop smoking

Kyodo

Young smokers could see the scope of their health insurance expand if they are willing to take steps to quit the habit through smoking-cessation treatments.

To lower future medical costs caused by nicotine addiction and reduce the risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease, the health ministry has said it is considering expanding coverage to include a treatment program implemented in 2006.

But getting people to jump on the bandwagon is a challenge because only about half of heavy smokers have been successful with the treatments offered under the coverage thus far.

As a condition, the indicator used to determine addicts for health insurance purposes is an index reading of 200 or more — a multiple based on number of cigarettes smoked per day and years spent smoking. Hence, a person who smokes a pack a day (20 cigarettes) for at least 10 years qualifies for coverage.

According to a survey by the health ministry, the smoking rate nationwide was 36.3 percent for men in their 20s and 12.7 percent for women in the same age bracket in 2013.

But 82 percent of nicotine addicts in their 20s have not smoked long enough to receive coverage.

The proposal by the Central Social Insurance Medical Council would lower the index so those who have smoked for a shorter time can have the treatments covered by health insurance.

oreover, the ministry estimates that by eliminating the index standard altogether and treating addicts in their 20s, more lifestyle-related diseases believed to be caused by smoking can be prevented, slicing future medical costs by about ¥13.3 billion.

Although some among on the council are in favor of expanding coverage for young smokers, others are not. One opponent argues that “medical insurance should apply to persons who have an illness and in principle should not be used for prevention.”

A similar proposal to expand coverage for treatments was made two years ago by the ministry, but shelved due to objections.

In a related topic, an online study published in Plos One, a peer-reviewed, open access journal, revealed that exposure of infants to secondhand smoke was higher in households of lower socioeconomic status, and that the health gap is only widening.

The study was authored by Junko Saito, a graduate student in the Department of Community and Global Health, Graduate School of Medicine at the University of Tokyo, and other scholars in collaboration with Osaka Medical Center for Cancer and Cardiovascular Diseases and the Health Promotion Research Center in Tokyo.

“You can’t protect children by just having smoking and non-smoking areas in the house. The entire house needs to be a non-smoking area,” said Saito.

Based on data collected from the health ministry on about 42,000 infants born in 2001 and some 32,000 born in 2010, the prevalence of infants’ exposure to secondhand smoke was determined and compared in terms of household income and parental education levels after the babies’ first six months.

The study found that whereas the percentage of parents who smoked inside the home was 36.8 percent in 2001, it had fallen to 14.4 percent in 2010, reflecting a significant drop in the overall smoking rate in Japanese society.

But on the whole, fathers were most responsible for exposing their infants to secondhand smoke in the home, at nearly 80 percent in 2010.

The entire sample was divided into four groups, depending on parental income and education levels. They analyzed infants’ exposure to secondhand smoke in the household and found that the higher the income and education levels, the fewer infants were exposed.

The study showed that, when examining the relative disparity between the group with the highest levels of income and education and the group with the lowest levels, the gulf had grown substantially in 2010 compared with 2001.