Here at Takes, we’ve long posited a theory of “conservation of vice” as a consumer-behavior parallel to the laws of conservation of matter and energy in physics. The idea is that when people give up one vice, they fill the void by adopting a new one or by more fully indulging another vice they’ve already got. If this theory is correct (and you must admit, it sounds plausible), the consumer economy is awash in ex-smokers who are avidly pursuing some other form of misbehavior. A new report on smoking from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “more adults have successfully quit smoking than remain current smokers.” In Connecticut, California, Vermont and Utah, “60 percent or more of smokers have quit smoking.” Nationwide, the proportion of adults who are current smokers has drifted down to 20.9 percent. Has this left a hard core of chain-smoking tobacco addicts? On the contrary. Among current smokers, the proportion defined as “heavy smokers” (going through 25-plus cigarettes a day) has fallen from 19.1 percent in 1993 to 12.1 percent in the latest data.
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