Latest War on Smoking May Really Win

The cigarette wars are heating up.

From higher taxes on a pack of smokes to new so-called safer cigarettes, the battle over tobacco in America is being reshaped.

"I think this a major shift in the world of tobacco marketing, and regulation, and public health," says Jack Henningfield, a behavioral biology professor at Johns Hopkins University, referring to the intensified push by state and local lawmakers to discourage smoking, and a host of new products designed to provide safer ways to smoke.

"On the one hand, for the first time in history we are seeing that it's possible to meaningfully reduce the number of cigarette deaths," he says. "On the other hand we are seeing a major marketing push [by tobacco companies]."

The Proof Is in the (Lack of ) Puffing

The most significant change in recent years, Henningfield argues, is the increasing scientific evidence that anti-smoking campaigns are effective.

In California, which has long had one of the most ambitious anti-tobacco campaigns, per capita cigarette consumption has fallen more than 50 percent since 1988. That year, voters in the state passed Proposition 99, which imposed a 25-cent-per-pack tax, and earmarked 20 percent of the revenue to anti-tobacco campaigns.

Many anti-smoking advocates say the well-documented drop in cigarette sales and smoking-related deaths has proven that California's approach is effective.

"They are getting declines that are not being seen elsewhere in the U.S.," says Dr. John Hughes, a specialist in addiction psychiatry at the University of Vermont, referring to California and Massachusetts, which has also mounted a vigorous smoking-control campaign.

"For the first time in history, the lung cancer deaths and heart disease deaths were significantly reduced in a state — and that's California," Henningfield says.

The move to hit smokers in their pocketbooks has gathered steam lately.

New York City this week hiked the price of a premium pack of cigarettes to more than $7.

"I think one of the things that's going on is that the effectiveness of price at deterring smoking has become increasingly clearly established," says Lloyd Johnston, a researcher at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

Tighter fiscal budgets have also prompted lawmakers to consider raising cigarette taxes, many researchers say.

States such as New Jersey, Vermont, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio and Illinois have recently boosted taxes on smokes, and Pennsylvania is set to increase its tax later this month.

"It's reached a critical mass where you're getting states that have never acted before starting to act," says Peter Jacobson, a professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health.

Meanwhile, California has continued to push new anti-smoking steps. Legislators there in June introduced a bill to increase the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 — the highest in the nation.

Not all anti-smoking policies have been shown to work, however.

A recent study by University of California, San Francisco, researchers found that laws that prohibit selling cigarettes to minors have not reduced teenage smoking, for example.

Despite widespread griping about higher cigarette prices and restrictions on where people can light up, there has been little sign of a significant smokers' backlash.

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