Universal preschool is an immensely popular idea with clear-cut economic benefits. And investing in early childhood education could also be a major boost to public health initiatives aimed at combating smoking rates among low-income Americans, according to a new study.
The report by Tobacco Free Kids finds that the universal preschool plan proposed by President Barack Obama during his most recent State of the Union address would provide high-quality preschool to 335,000 low- and middle-income American children in the first year alone and to two million children within a decade.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 4,000 children and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 try smoking for the first time every day and that tobacco use contributes to 450,000 preventable deaths every year. Since Obama’s plan is funded through a 94-cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax (and corresponding tax increases for other tobacco products), researchers concluded that the early childhood education plan would have the corresponding effect of preventing millions of children from becoming smokers, encouraging current smokers to kick the habit, and reducing tobacco-related health care illnesses and spending:
CREDIT: Smart Healthy Kids
Those findings correspond with earlier reports suggesting that raising taxes on tobacco is the single most effective way to discourage smoking. A study by the World Health Organization found that raising tobacco taxes reduced the number of worldwide adult smokers by seven million between 2007 and 2010 alone.
Researchers also noted that the two-pronged approach of expanding preschool to lower-income children while raising tobacco prices could cause future smoking rates to plummet among adolescents and the poor, since American smokers tend to have lower incomes and less education than non-smokers.
“Economic strains may shape an individual’s capacity for self-control by diminishing opportunities for self-regulation, or affecting important brain structures,” wrote Dr. Bernard Fuemmeler, an associate professor in Community and Family Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, in a study on poor Americans’ smoking rates from July.
The Tobacco Free Kids report argues that earlier education could help children learn self-control, boost their social standing through a supportive and educational environment, and give them more information with which to make wise personal health decisions. Over the long-term, that could help secure children who attend preschool higher-paying jobs with health insurance, according to researchers.