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Tobacco Free Florida Focuses On The "True Cost" Of Smoking

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Courtesy of Tobacco Free Florida
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

As part of Tobacco Free Florida Week, the Florida Department of Health is encouraging residents to ‘kick the habit’ by focusing on the ‘cost of smoking,’ both physically and financially, to help make their point, the Health Department’s Tobacco Free Florida education and prevention program is out with a public service announcement that invites viewers to “step into The Smoker’s Store,” where one can see the true cost of smoking.

For the video, they’ve temporarily taken over a store filled with camping and recreational items, replacing the price in dollars with the cost in cigarettes.

Polarized sunglasses, 22 packs; hiking boots, 37 packs, and so on.

The video continues, "And, as far as bang for your buck...well, how much is it? This grill is 100 packs of cigarettes. Chuckle...calculating...”my cigarettes are about $5 a pack, so that’s like....”Do you smoke? Yes. How much do you smoke? About a pack a day. The average pack-a-day smoker spends $2,000 a year. Wow! I don’t think about it that way; man that hurts. What a waste right?"

Over time, a pack-a-day habit in Florida can really add up, totaling $10,000 in just five short years. And, then there’s the cost to your health. Tobacco Free Florida Bureau Chief Kellie O’Dare says smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death in Florida and the United States.

"Everybody I think kind of thinks about lung cancer, when they think about cancer. But, it really can cause almost 15 different types of cancer throughout the body and in Florida, a third of cancer deaths are caused by cigarette smoking."

Since 2007, it’s been the mission of Tobacco Free Florida to reduce smoking rates in the state and they’re having some success, with adult smoking in the state dropping to an all-time low of 15.8 percent as of 2015. O’Dare puts that into perspective in terms of cost.

"Those reductions resulted in approximately $17.7 billion in savings among smoking related health care costs. So, that’s a lot of money and about an estimated $3.2 billion in smoking related health care costs were saved in 2015 alone."

There’s no county-specific data in terms of cost. But, as health educator for the Florida Department of Health in Santa Rosa, Vince Nguyen spends a lot of time talking up the value of smoke-free housing and workplaces.

"Business-wise, if you have employees that smoke, it can cost an average of $5,000 to $7,000 per year on their insurance. For a housing to have a turnover from a smoking room/apartment to a non-smoker, it would cost an average I’ve seen from a low end of $500 all the way up to $5,000 to turn a smoking room into a non-smoker because you have gut everything. You have to take out the air ducts, the wall, the floors, I mean everything else inside. I mean you have to gut the whole apartment out."

Thanks in large part to Nguyen’s efforts; Santa Rosa now has seven smoke-free apartment complexes and 15 businesses that have adopted smoke-free policies.

With the resources of Tobacco Free Florida’s “Quit Your Way” program, Santa Rosa and all 67 counties are able to connect those who want to quit smoking with a variety of services delivered by phone, text, on-line or in person. The best part, says Nguyen, there’s no cost.

"Everything is free. We have different locations and also we can go to their location and provide the cessation classes and also the nicotine replacement therapy, which includes the gum, the lozenges, and the patches. It’s a $300 package free."

Santa Rosa, Escambia, Okaloosa and Walton counties have all contracted with the West Florida Area Health & Education Center to conduct the smoking cessation classes held regularly at various locations.

Julie Day and her husband are retirees who live in Gulf Breeze.

"I’m 61 years old and I have smoked since I was 15 years old. We quit on April 11 this year."

After she tried and failed, they both took the plunge, attending a six-week smoking cessation program at Sacred Heart Hospital.

"We talked about it long and hard and came to the decision that when he turned 60, that was it. We were gonna quit and we were gonna do it together and we’re doing it for health reasons."

The couple was preparing for a trip to California that they paid for before they quit and now looking ahead to the money they’re going to save.

"You know when both of you are smokers, that runs about $150 - $200 a week. So, it definitely adds up and we have talked about it. We’re gonna put that money toward vacations."

That’s the point of Tobacco Free Florida Week, to provide concrete examples of the benefits of quitting and let residents know about the various free cessation programs that are available.

With an increase in smoke-free policies within business and government, smoking rates in general are coming down. Since 2011, there’ve been fairly dramatic declines in adult smoking locally, down to 18 percent in Escambia and Santa Rosa, and 17 percent in Okaloosa. But, given the state average is just under 16 percent, Tobacco Free Florida Bureau Chief Kellie O’Dare says they’re focused on a strategy for improvement.

"So, we’re really working on looking at who is smoking across the state and what do we need to be able to do to make sure that our information and our program services get into those individuals’ hands that way they’ll have the most successful quit-attempt they possibly can."

For more information on Tobacco Free Florida Week, visit

Copyright 2020 WUWF. To see more, visit WUWF.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.