espite the best intentions of the health lobby, smoking rates in the U.S. have now remained level for five years. One in five Americans still smokes, a statistic that hasn't changed since 2005. Before that, the rate dropped every year for four decades. Why has the decline in smoking rates stalled?
1. It's the recession, stupid
The study links greater cigarette use to "poverty and lower educational attainment," says Alice Park at Time. During a recession, those are always going to be on the rise. Not only that, says Rob Stein at The Washington Post, but programs to curb smoking have "suffered in recent years as cash-strapped states [shift] resources elsewhere."
2. The lack of a unified health-care system
You can criticize Obamacare all you want, says Tom Randall at BusinessWeek, but the "health-care overhaul is expected to reduce the number of smokers." The 32 million people currently uninsured will have new access to health programs that help smokers quit.
3. The tobacco industry is getting smarter
After years of losing business to anti-smoking campaigns and regulation, the "tobacco industry has gotten better at sidestepping government efforts to minimize smoking," says Thomas H. Maugh II at the Los Angeles Times. Price discounts and tobacco lozenges help attract children and new customers to the habit.
4. The government is getting lazier
The nation's policymakers need to "take more aggressive steps" in the fight against smoking, says American Heart Association chief executive Nancy Brown, quoted in The Hill. When the government takes "bold action," it gets people to quit. Unfortunately, many of our leaders are too "shortsighted" to see that.
5. Taxing smokers doesn't work
States across America have "experimented with massive cigarette tax increases" to raise revenues and encourage people to quit, says James Ledbetter at Slate. But while revenues have soared, the number of quitters has stayed level. Perhaps that would change if they used that revenue to pay for anti-smoking efforts — but not one of the 14 states that raised cigarette taxes in 2009 is using the extra money on "anti-smoking efforts."
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