Well Being

Looks Like Sin Taxes Are Working: 1 In 5 Still Smoke, But They’re Smoking Less

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So this is interesting: While the percentage of Americans who smoke remained essentially unchanged between 2010 and 2011, the number of self-described “heavy smokers” has gone down quite a bit over the past six years.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 19% of U.S. adults identified as smokers in 2011, down just a teensy bit from 19.3% in 2010. But among those who describe themselves as daily smokers, the mean number of cigarettes decreased from 16.7 to 15.1 and the number who smoked 30-or-more cigarettes per day was down more than a quarter since 2005.

I suppose this is an inevitable consequence of all the cigarette tax increases we've seen in the past half a dozen years — many smokers aren't necessarily going to quit altogether (they don't call it an addiction for nothing, folks) but they will be forced to cut back. If you support these types of ‘sin taxes,' you can rest assured that they seem, at least in part, to be working.

For the record: I'm against such taxes no matter how “effective” they are because I don't think it's the government role to encourage particular health behaviors, nor to do it through the tax code, nor is it democratic to use majority preferences to disproportionately burden a minority. That's really a tirade for another day, but I do note with dismay this quote from the CDC report:

“To meet the Healthy People 2020 target for smoking among adults, effective interventions need to be continued or augmented, such as a combination of smoke-free laws, tobacco price increases, access to tobacco cessation treatments and services, and anti-tobacco media campaigns featuring graphic personal stories on the adverse health impact of smoking.”

The “Healthy People 2020 target” to which they refer is getting the percentage of U.S. adults who smoke down from 19% to 12% by the year 2020.

The report also makes the much-heralded claim that “tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.” This is only because the government doesn't take into account poor nutrition as a cause of U.S. deaths.