Why do So Many Americans Still Smoke?

| by Kate Wharmby Seldman

For 40 years, the number of Americans who smoke has been decreasing. Since 2005, however, it's stalled: one in five Americans still smokes. Why? An article in The Week posits five theories as to why so many of us are still addicted to nicotine.

The first theory has to do with the recession: in times of economic crisis, education suffers, and knowledge of smoking's ill effects is tied to a person's level of education. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, "Nearly half of those with a GED and a quarter of those with no high school diploma smoke, compared with only 6% of those with a college graduate degree." Also, anti-smoking programs have had their budgets cut, which means there's less public effort to convince smokers to quit: for example, there are fewer ads on billboards, and fewer anti-smoking spots on TV. In some places, the tax on cigarettes has now reached a steep $2.35 a pack, but if more of that tax isn't used on anti-smoking education, the number of American smokers isn't likely to decline.

Secondly, the healthcare overhaul hasn't happened yet. When it does, more Americans will have access to healthcare, and therefore to programs that'll help them quit smoking and teach them how to ward off relapses. 32 million people in the US are currently uninsured.

Third, American tobacco companies have gotten better at convincing consumers to ignore anti-smoking propaganda. They offer price cuts, and market flavored tobacco lozenges to children to get around the ban on flavored cigarettes. This ban went into effect in September 2009, to curb youth smoking rates.

The fourth and fifth theories also have to do with smoking education and taxes: Government anti-smoking efforts aren't aggressive enough to persuade people to quit, and cigarette tax money isn't being spent properly. 14 states raised cigarette taxes in 2009, but none of those states is using that extra money on anti-smoking efforts.

A sixth reason smokers may not want to quit: hard times. While cigarettes are an expensive luxury - especially if a smoker is short on cash - they're also comforting, especially when they feed an addiction. In a world where many of us are enduring hard knocks, vices can be extremely difficult to give up.