Smokers Smoking Less, Place Your Bets, Etc.

The number of cigarette smokers has been relatively stable during the past decade, as we learn from the latest of Gallup’s annual polls on the subject. That would seem to be good news for tobacco companies, considering the intensity of anti-tobacco campaigns (and the proliferation of smoking restrictions) during that period. Twenty-five percent of the poll’s respondents reported having smoked during the week before being questioned—nearly matching the 27 percent saying so in Gallup’s 1996 survey. But this apparent stasis conceals bad news for Big Tobacco: People who do smoke go through significantly fewer cigarettes per day than used to be the case. The median daily number of cigarettes per smoker is now 10, just half what it was during much of the 1990s. The average number of daily cigarettes is now 14, vs. 17 in 1996. Forty-four percent of smokers now burn through a pack or more per day, while 54 percent did so in 1996. A majority of smokers (75 percent) consider themselves addicted to cigarettes. Even if they can’t kick the habit, though, their sense of addiction seems not to prevent them from reducing the amount they smoke. (One wonders what luck anti-tobacco campaigners would have with ads urging smokers to cut back on the number of cigarettes they smoke per day, rather than calling for total abstention.) Seventy-five percent of smokers said they would like to be free of cigarettes. They should feel encouraged by the fact that there continue to be slightly more ex-smokers than current smokers in the adult population.

“Don’t play with the food advertising.” Parents who feel their offspring are inundated with conventional sales pitches for food may feel like issuing that command as more and more marketers lure kids to “advergames” on their Web sites. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 85 percent of top food brands that target children with TV commercials also use branded Web sites to reach the youngsters online. Seventy-three percent of these sites include advergames featuring products or brand characters. “To encourage additional time spent at the Web site, many of the games promote repeat playing (71 percent), offer multiple levels of play (45 percent) or suggest other games the visitor might enjoy (22 percent).” Sixty-four percent of the sites encourage kids to “contact their peers about a specific product or brand.” Among other Web ploys are sweepstakes/promotions (65 percent) and incentives for product purchase (38 percent). In case kids don’t see enough of a brand’s spots on TV, 53 percent of the sites have those available for online viewing.

More evidence that education yields economic benefits: A study by the National Retail Federation predicts that back-to-school purchases this year will total $17.6 billion, up sharply from $13.4 billion last year. Based on polling fielded by BIGresearch, the study says the average family expects to shell out $527 to equip its young scholars, vs. $444 last year. Outlays for apparel and electronics are seen pacing the increase. Spending on items like computers, laptops and calculators was down in 2005 (to a paltry $2.06 billion), but it’s expected to rebound smartly this year, to $3.82 billion. By the way, don’t believe kids if they tell you inspiring stories about walking barefoot through the snow to get to school: Parents will be spending an average of $98 for their kids’ back-to-school shoes.

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like the ‘hood. A report from the Census Bureau, crunching numbers from the latest American Housing Survey, says 70 percent of U.S. householders rate their neighborhood at 8 or better on a scale of 1 to 10. That’s consistent with the findings of a survey conducted for Money by International Communications Research. It found 88 percent of adults like the town or city in which they now live. Sixty-five percent of homeowners said they “very much” like their city or town, as did 71 percent of people with household income of $75,000-plus.

Within living memory, casino gambling seemed exotic, if not downright louche. Now, a Harris Poll shows how mainstream a destination casinos have become. Forty-one percent of adults reported going to a casino at least once during the past 12 months. More than one-fifth said they visited a casino at least twice during that period. Fifty-two percent of adults in the West went to a casino at least once in those months, vs. 47 percent in the Midwest, 36 percent in the East and 31 percent in the South. About half the respondents are at least somewhat likely to go to a casino in the next 12 months. While today’s casinos offer attractions other than gambling, just 12 percent of those who’ve visited one in the past 12 months did so without placing a bet.

Some avid shoppers feel buying things is its own reward. Others, though, want a more tangible payback for their spending. A survey by Opinion Research Corp. finds 54 percent of adults saying they have a credit card that gives them rewards in the form of money back, discounts and so on. Money back is the most popular. Among people who accumulate redeemable points by using their cards, airline travel is the favorite payoff.

Assuming they told the truth to the pollsters, there are lots of liars out there. Twenty percent of respondents to a recent Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs poll said they “might have told a lie” in the week before being queried. Nonetheless, a majority of Americans are absolutists on the matter of lying: 52 percent said it’s “never justified,” while 42 percent said it “sometimes” is. (Five percent said “it depends,” and 1 percent had no opinion.) As you can see from the chart, few people feel circumstances often compel them to stray from the straight and narrow. Some lies are more socially acceptable than others. For instance, while 90 percent of respondents said it’s “never” acceptable to lie to one’s spouse about an affair, just 34 percent said the same about lies told “to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.” Also deemed always unacceptable by majorities of those polled: lying on a résumé (88 percent) and lying about one’s age (63 percent).