U.S. cigarettes a relative bargain

Two significant recent steps should bolster the anti-tobacco effort. First, the federal cigarette excise tax increased from 39 cents to $1.01 in April 2009. Despite that price increase, U.S. cigarettes are among the most affordable in the world.

Second, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can now regulate the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes and other tobacco products. The U.S. surgeon general declared tobacco a health hazard in 1964. However, over the next 45 years, the No. 1 preventable cause of death remained virtually the last unregulated consumable U.S. product. The regulation likely will have more impact than the 1971 ban against tobacco advertising on radio and television. It probably will eclipse the industry’s $206 billion settlement with the states in 1998.

The regulation bans the use of the terms “light” and “low tar,” as well as the use of fruit and candy flavorings to make products more palatable to children. Advertising and store displays will be restricted to stark black-and-white text. However, the bigger impact is the disclosure and regulation of the estimated 60 carcinogens and 4,000 toxins emitted by cigarette smoke. The FDA will have the ability to make the products less deadly for current users.

The Congressional Budget Office predicted the law would decrease youth smoking by 11 percent and adult smoking by 2 percent, independent of the effects of higher excise taxes and public smoking restrictions.

A 2009 Gallup poll indicated that more than half of Americans disapproved of the FDA regulation. The reasons for lack of support are unclear. However, even many nonsmokers oppose public smoking bans because they place a higher value on freedom of choice than on combating health risks.