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Americans Using Less Tobacco

Tobacco use has reached its lowest level in the United States in more than 50 years, according to a study just released by the National Association of State Attorneys General.

Cigarette sales in the United States declined in 2005 by 4.2 percent, the largest single-year decline on record. And, sales are down by 21 percent since the $246 billion legal settlement negotiated in 1998 between the State Attorneys General and the tobacco industry.

Bill Roach, a spokesman for the National Association of State Attorneys General, hails the decline as a victory for public health "both in terms of saving lives and some of the economics of treating people who are ill with tobacco-related disease."

Roach says the landmark tobacco settlement raised public awareness about the conduct of tobacco companies and the health risks of smoking. It also restricted the marketing and promotion of tobacco products. But Roach says other factors have contributed to the decline in smoking like tax increases, which help prevent young people from starting smoking and help older people quit. He says there are also a growing number of restrictions of where people can be exposed to second hand smoke.

"It's a big change and a big deal, public health-wise, and it's required a big effort by many organizations to get there," he says. Among those organizations was the American Legacy Foundation, a public health group. Spokesman Joe Martyak says while the Attorneys General study represents a step forward, 45 million Americans 18 years and older continue to smoke. "With 378 billion cigarettes sold last year that still means at least six packs a week are sold to every smoker in America, and until that number is brought down to zero, we are still going to have the health effects and tragedies surrounding smoking," he says.

Martyak says the United States has a goal to meet of no more than 15 percent of youth and 12 percent of adults smoking by 2010. However, he is concerned with the tobacco industry's increased marketing efforts. "They are spending almost $41 million a day in the United States on their marketing, and there is no sign that they are decreasing their marketing dollars," he says. "If that is the case, it is going to make it harder going forward to meet those goals, because their effort is being stepped up as far as their reach goes."

Tobacco use is blamed for as many as 400,000 deaths a year in the U.S. and is also the leading cause of preventable death in the country.