Boxes of Nicorette, nicotine gum used to aid people in quitting smoking, is seen in a pharmacy in Toronto January 31, 2008. Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch

Investing in smoking cessation treatments saves lives and it may be sound fiscal policy, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

They said for every $1 spent on smoking cessation treatments, states will get back $1.26, amounting to a 26 percent return on their investment.

The study, done by researchers at Penn State University, compared the costs of drug treatments and counseling programs aimed at helping people quit smoking with the cost of premature deaths, lost productivity and the health costs of smoking, which increases the risk of cancers and heart disease.

It was funded by a grant from Pfizer Inc, maker of the smoking cessation drug Chantix, known generically as varenicline.

Smoking results in costs to the United States of more than $300 billion a year, Paul Billings of the American Lung Association told reporters in a news briefing.

That includes $67.5 billion in lost workplace productivity; $117 billion from the cost of people dying prematurely; and $116 billion in direct medical expenditures.

Sadly, smoking continues to kill 393,000 people in the United States each year, Billings told the briefing.

Although the average cost of a pack of cigarettes nationwide is $5.61, the real cost in terms of lost lives and productivity is $18.05 per pack.

The cost to society is more than three times the average retail price of a pack of cigarettes, he said.

The study hits as state and federal officials implement smoking cessation provisions that were part of healthcare reform legislation.

The American Lung Association is urging states to expand coverage of smoking cessation for residents enrolled in Medicaid, the joint federal and state health program for low-income people.

Only six states provide comprehensive coverage for Medicaid recipients: Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

This study adds a powerful economic argument that helping smokers quit saves money, Jennifer Singleterry of the American Lung Association said in a statement.

Smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of illness and death in the United States. Cigarette smoke causes 90 percent of all cases of lung cancer, which kills 1.2 million people a year globally.