Rethinking Healthcare

What might end tobacco smoking

Posting in Food

It's rare that I face people puffing away madly and blowing the smoke in everyone's face. But they still smoke.

I probably should have commented on the FDA's new warnings for cigarette packages yesterday. The White House Blog calls it "the beginning of the end of the tobacco epidemic."

Would that it were. (Picture from the Food and Drug Administration.)

We know cigarettes are addictive. We know they kill. We have known this for decades. It's what makes watching "Mad Men" so delicious -- everyone seems to be smoking as people did then.

In the years since those portrayed in AMC's TV show (they're smoking clove cigarettes, they hasten to note repeatedly) the smoking rate has been cut in half -- from 42% to roughly 20%.

But each day 4,000 new smokers are lighting up, 1,000 still getting addicted, they're all still taking steps that lead to premature death at a frightening cost.

The FDA's Tobacco Control Plan, based on authority given in this last Congress, sounds nice, but anti-tobacco activists (naturally) want more.

They want smoking banned in all workplaces, in cars with kids and casinos. They want smokers charged double for their health insurance. And they want smoking in the home considered as part of any child custody dispute -- if they're smoking take their kids away.

People who follow the industry aren't worried. They see a 3% annual decline in annual sales continuing, not accelerating, and the profitability is amazing. Lorillard has the highest return on equity in the whole stock market. As the recession has taken hold the number of smokers quitting has actually dropped.

The snark is also getting as thick as cigarette smoke.

The most interesting reaction may have been that of Anthony Helmsley, a long-time tobacco executive. He said the graphic ads "stigmatize smokers and de-normalizes smoking."

That's the key to the whole thing, I believe. Since the 1998 Master Tobacco Settlement smokers' attitudes have changed. I saw it on my morning walk, at the MARTA station near my home.

The bus driver was smoking all right, but she left her bus to do it. She even (technically) left the station, standing on some steps by a sidewalk, facing away from all of us toward the street.

It's rare that I face people, even on our bus platform, puffing away madly and blowing the smoke in everyone's face. Even the local drug dealers step into the roadway. And this is outdoors.

So smoking is heavily taxed, it's heavily stigmatized, and the new FDA program follows the example of many other countries which long ago went to graphic imaging in an attempt to reduce smoking.

If one in five American adults are still lighting up, it's ridiculous to even propose a ban on tobacco.

So what would you do?

Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure