Mark Dolliver’s Takes: When the Smoke Clears

If tobacco companies hope public aversion to nanny-state intrusiveness will save them from stricter regulation, they’d better guess again. As you can see from the chart, drawing on an ABC News/Washington Post poll, even conservatives are more likely than not to favor giving the Food and Drug Administration power to make life miserable for Big Tobacco. Nor do smokers comprise a reliably anti-regulation constituency.

And, truth be told, it might not matter much if they did. The same survey hints at the degree to which smoking has become a downscale habit. Among adults with a high school diploma or less, 33 percent smoke, vs. 7 percent of those with post-graduate schooling. Similarly, 43 percent of those with income of $20,000 or less smoke, vs. 16 percent of the $100,000-plus cohort.

In all, 26 percent of adults said they’d smoked cigarettes in the previous week—right around the average for the past decade. The one bright spot for cigarette companies is that the incidence of smoking is higher among 18-29-year-olds, at 37 percent. But that doesn’t mean these people will end up as lifelong smokers. In a new Gallup poll (which found just 21 percent of respondents saying they’d smoked in the past week), 23 percent said they used to be regular smokers. The rising number of ex-smokers should give hope to the 81 percent of current smokers who said they’d like to quit.

Then again, the distinction between smokers and non-smokers isn’t the only one that matters. Gallup says the “most notable change has been the decline in heavy smoking—less than one in 10 smokers now report smoking more than one pack per day.” As recently as the late 1980s, one-fifth of smokers were of the pack-a-day ilk.