Latest War on Smoking May Really Win

"The hope is that cigarette makers will make truly less deadly cigarettes; the fear is that they'll market them that way" without scientific support for their claims, Henningfield says.

"Harm-reduction" approaches — which seek to lessen the ill effects of smoking, rather than stamp them out altogether — are likely to generate more controversy as new products appear. Experts say anti-tobacco advocates are bound to disagree on what compromises to make on issues of tobacco regulation and attempts to formulate less deadly ways to smoke.

A Smokeless Future?

Some researchers predict smoking will be virtually eliminated in America over the next several decades.

"I think it is likely that it will not be a mainstream behavior" in as little as two decades, Burns predicts.

He believes that the social impetus to smoke will drop sharply as fewer people engage in the habit, and that the marketing and distribution of tobacco products will also decline with lessening demand.

"Scientists think smoking is partly a social phenomenon. As smoking drops to a smaller percentage of the population, you lose that," Burns argues.

Other public health experts, such as Jacobson at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, have more modest expectations. He believes smoking levels will eventually drop to perhaps 15 percent of the population.

"You'll always have kids lighting up," he says.

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