When it comes to cigarette smoking, there's good news and bad news from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The good news is that cigarette sales in America hit a 16-year low last year. A total of 575 billion individual cigarettes were sold in the U.S., still a lot, but down 1.5 percent from 1986.The outlook is that those sales will continue to diminish as smoking becomes less socially acceptable. Increasingly tough smoking restrictions and even outright smoking bans are being adopted around the nation in public areas, the workplace, and on airlines. People are getting more disturbed about being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Unfortunately, there are setbacks in the struggle against smoking and in behalf of better health. First, the tobacco companies made huge profits last year, despite the decline in sales. Significant price increases resulted in sales of $33 billion. As long as those kind of earnings are possible, tobacco companies are going to keep producing, no matter what the health problems may be.
The drop in U.S. sales also is being more than made up with cigarette exports, particularly to Asia. Exports reached 100 billion individual cigarettes, nearly one of five of all cigarettes manufactured by U.S. companies. Part of this is due to penetration of the Japanese market caused by Japan's dropping of tariffs, something pushed by political figures from the tobacco producing states.
It's bad enough to have the U.S. government subsidize the growing of tobacco, without helping to push it on foreign users who are exposed to TV advertising banned in the U.S.
This overseas market is expected to continue to grow, which amounts to the U.S. exporting a major health hazard. The only hope is that smoking eventually will come to be recognized in other countries as a significant and preventable health problem.
That is starting to happen in a few places, but as America's own domestic experience shows, it is a lengthy process. In the meantime, many people are going to find themselves victims of smoking-related diseases acquired from U.S. cigarettes.
It's too bad these companies can't export something of more value than the risk of disease and death.