We've always known that smoking cessation programs pay their way, but the benefits were always thought to come slowly and over time.
Still, employers, insurers and government agencies have all pushed cessation as a way to eventually save money.
But a new study says there is only one thing wrong about this assumption: The savings are nearly immediate.
The study, conducted by George Washington University of the Massachusetts' Medicaid program, found that every dollar invested in smoking cessation counseling, drugs and treatment returned $3 of savings in the first 16 months.
That's an incredible rate of return, and suggests states should be doing even more to get Medicaid enrollees off tobacco.
Yet, unfortunately, in this era of tight state budgets, stop-smoking programs have become one of the targets for elimination.
Maine, like Massachusetts, has a robust smoking cessation benefit in Medicaid. It requires a $3 co-pay for three counseling sessions a year and for a variety of gums, patches and nasal sprays.
But there is a proposal to cut tobacco cessation products from Maine's Medicaid program in the supplemental budget, although other funding would remain in the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention budget.
The Massachusetts study would argue against eliminating any stop-smoking programs.
"The good news from a state budget perspective is that even if people stop smoking temporarily, there can be immediate savings," study author Leighton Ku told the website stateline.org.
The "study showed a rapid reduction in the number of people having heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems, and that led to immediate savings."
In the past, studies have calculated the lifetime value of breaking the tobacco habit, according to the stateline.org article. That means people gradually miss fewer days of work, live longer and are less likely to develop cancer, emphysema and other respiratory, cardiovascular diseases.
The Massachusetts study used two previous studies that tracked hospital admissions related to heart and lung complaints from 2002 to 2008.
The smoking rate for Massachusetts Medicaid recipients was more than 38 percent in 2006. Within two and a half years, 40 percent of Medicaid smokers had used the benefit and their smoking rate had dropped to 10 percent.
Nationally, smoking-related illnesses are estimated to cost Medicaid about $50 billion a year.
While the temptation must be great to cut across the board, Maine's lawmakers should look elsewhere for cuts.
Smoking cessation programs within Medicaid almost certainly save the state more money than they cost.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.