No Smoking: Are we ready?

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SummaryA confluence of changes in policy and public mindset makes officials hopeful of smoking dropping to 5 per cent or lower by 2050.

US health officials have begun to predict the end of cigarette smoking in America.

They have long wished for a cigarette-free America, but shied away from calling for smoking rates to fall to zero or near zero by any particular year. The power of tobacco companies and popularity of their products made such a goal seem like a pipe dream.

But a confluence of changes has recently prompted public health leaders to start throwing around phrases like “endgame” and “tobacco-free generation”. Now, they talk about the adult smoking rate dropping to 10 per cent in the next decade and to 5 per cent or lower by 2050.

Acting US Surgeon General Boris Lushniak last month released a 980-page report on smoking that pushed for stepped-up tobacco-control measures. “We believe we have the public health tools to get us to the zero level,” he told AP.

This is not the first time a US health official has spoken so boldly. In 1984, Surgeon General C Everett Koop called for a “smoke-free society” by 2000. However, Koop didn’t offer specifics.

“What’s different today is that we have policies and programmes that have been proven to drive down tobacco use,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Among the things that have changed:n Cigarette taxes have increased. A pack of cigarettes that would have sold for about $1.75 20 years ago would cost more than triple that now.n Laws banning smoking in restaurants, bars and workplaces have popped up.

n Polls show that cigarette smoking is no longer considered normal behaviour, and is less popular among teens than marijuana.

n Federal officials are increasingly aggressive about anti-smoking advertising. The Food and Drug Administration has launched a new youth tobacco prevention campaign, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has debuted a third, $60-million round of its successful anti-tobacco ad campaign.

n Tobacco companies, once considered impervious to legal attack, have suffered some huge defeats in court. Perhaps the biggest was the 1998 settlement of a case brought by more than 40 states demanding compensation for the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. Big Tobacco agreed to pay about $200 billion.

n Retailing of cigarettes is changing. CVS Caremark, the second-largest US pharmacy chain, has announced that it will stop selling tobacco products at its more than 7,600 drugstores. Public health leaders predict pressure will increase on companies like Walgreen Co and Wal-Mart Stores Inc to follow suit.

These developments have caused

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