Did you see the new score? Public health: 1 Smoking rate: closer to 0, as the number of U.S. adults smoking cigarettes has dropped to a new low of 15.2%. That number is 2 percentage points below 2014, but that may change as it is only for the months of January through March. New Year’s resolutions could be one factor as to why the numbers are lower, but we will have to wait until 2015 is over to see the final results.
What does the decrease in smoking mean? First, fewer premature deaths from smoking. Approximately one-fifth of all U.S. deaths or about a half a million deaths are due to smoking. Another reason the smoking rate has dropped could be due to smokers switching to electronic cigarettes. According to the CDC report, the number of former smokers is higher than the number of current smokers.
So how can we get the smoking numbers lower? First, raise taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products such as flavored little cigars, electronic cigarette devices and liquid nicotine. The tobacco industry is lobbying states to keep tobacco taxes low by arguing an increase will hurt users by taking more money out of their pocket. That’s why many states only raise taxes a few cents at a time rather than a larger increase of $1 or more. The fact is many low income users are spending hard earned money on tobacco and are already taking money away from other necessities such as food, clothing, and medications to pay for their tobacco. Raising taxes will give some smokers an incentive to quit altogether, while other users may cut back. It is also a proven fact that the number of youth smokers decreases when taxes are increased, something the tobacco industry is aware of and doesn’t like.
Second, raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21 across the U.S. “Seven in 10 cigarette smokers support banning the sale of tobacco products (not just cigarettes), to anyone under age 21.” It’s an interesting number considering the same number who support the ban also would like to stop smoking, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. And an even high number, “three out of four Americans overall favor the policy” of raising the purchasing age. We have said it before, if smoking is so great, why do so many people want to quit, and now that same number, 70%, want the tobacco purchasing age raised.
Another policy that could be put into place to decrease smoking and tobacco use is requiring stores selling tobacco to apply for a tobacco license much like those stores selling liquor. Removing flavored little cigars from convenience stores and moving them to tobacco/cigar stores would also keep under-aged youth from purchasing them. Of course the tobacco industry will argue that requiring a tobacco license or removing flavored tobacco products will cause small convenience stores to lose customers and close, but they also argued that businesses would be shuttered if smoking bans went into place, and that didn’t happen.
The wheels of progress seem to turn slowly, especially in tobacco control, but with diligence and perseverance, public health will be the ultimate winner.