Latest War on Smoking May Really Win

"Most smokers actually support price increases even though they grumble about it, because they recognize it'll make them more likely to quit," says Dr. David Burns, a tobacco researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

Some smokers' rights groups have decried the recent tax hikes and restrictions on smoking, and vow to lobby lawmakers to reverse course.

"This is more of a persecution than it is a raise in revenue," says Audrey Sil of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, a New York smokers advocacy group.

Tobacco companies have offered some support to the groups, pointing out that cigarette taxes hit especially hard because smokers tend to be lower-income.

More Money, Shifting Opinions

Along with increasing evidence that public anti-tobacco campaigns work, states have had more money to devote to such efforts, due in large part to the landmark 1998 "Master Settlement Agreement" the tobacco industry reached with 46 states.

Under the deal, the tobacco companies agreed to funnel millions of dollars to state tobacco-control programs.

When tobacco companies admitted their products were harmful, as part of that agreement, the deal also increased public pressure on lawmakers to discourage smoking, says Burns, the tobacco researcher at UC San Diego.

Increased attention to smoking's dangers has also turned more people against the habit, some researchers believe. The United Nations' cancer research agency recently found that tobacco smoke is even more cancerous than previous research had indicated.

"You've got the fact that the public is more aware than ever that smoking is deadly," Henningfield says.

Many researchers believe more negative general attitudes toward smoking have contributed to a gradual increase in the number of jury awards to ill smokers, such as John Lukacs, a Florida man who won a $37.5 million last month.

As attitudes have shifted, the percentage of Americans who smoke has gradually declined over the years.

Roughly one in four American adults smokes today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, down from slightly less than half the population in years following World War II.

Smoking increased in the early 1990s, particularly among young people. But that trend had reversed itself over the last four or five years, researchers say.

The Promise of a ‘Safer’ Cigarette

Tobacco companies have responded in part by developing new products to suit changing consumer demand.

Omni — which is advertised as "the first reduced-carcinogen cigarette" — is already on the market. Quest — described as a nicotine-free, reduced-carcinogen cigarette — is expected to hit shelves later this year.

Another product — Advance Lights — claims to reduce the presence of some dangerous chemicals in cigarettes by using a different tobacco-preparation process.

An Institute of Medicine expert panel issued a cautious note of support for so-called safer cigarettes, saying they were "potentially beneficial," although noting there was no proof yet that they offered lower health risks than regular cigarettes.

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday ruled that nicotine water was a drug, preventing the product from reaching store shelves anytime soon. NicoWater's maker had hoped to market it as a way to help people quit smoking.

The FDA has previously shot down nicotine-added lip balm and lollipops.

Public health exerts are divided on the issue of safer cigarettes.

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