Montanans buying fewer cigarettes,,

November 8, 2010 - Cigarette sales in Montana declined from 71 million packs sold in fiscal year 1999 to 46 million packs in fiscal year 2010, a 35 percent drop. The drop mirrors what is happening on the national level. Since 1998, tobacco sales in the United States have declined by 2 percent each year. Still, Montanans spend $230 million annually on cigarettes.

CDC Smoking and Tobacco Use - State Highlights - Montana

Gregory N. Connolly, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, called the decline, specifically in Montana, "very impressive."

Since 1998, the prevalence of smoking among Montana adults has decreased from 22 percent to 17 percent in 2009. Smoking has decreased among youth as well, according to the Prevention Needs Assessment. In 2000, 27 percent of youth were current smokers. In 2008, 16 percent of youth were smokers.

The reasons behind the slide in cigarette sales are numerous, including rising cigarette taxes, increased prices and declining incomes in difficult economic times. A desire for better health and stringent restrictions on where people can smoke also played a role.

The prevalence of smoking-cessation programs such as those offered at Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare also play a role as many quit just for health reasons. And, there is no mystery that smoking kills. Smoking-related illnesses account for an estimated 443,000 deaths each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

In Montana, there are several contributing factors to the decline in smokers, including:

— Montana has had a tobacco prevention program in place since 1994. In 2005, it was fully funded by Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The program works to decrease the number of youth who start using tobacco products, helps current tobacco users quit, eliminates exposure to secondhand smoke and eliminates tobacco-related disparities among special populations.

— Montana increased the unit price of tobacco products in 2003 and 2005, a strategy to reduce tobacco use. The state tax on a pack of cigarettes is $1.70.

— Montana has a strong clean indoor air law, the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, which eliminates exposure to secondhand smoke for nearly all workers.

— The Department of Public Health and Human Services also funds local health departments to implement activities to address tobacco prevention among both youth and adults.

— Montana has a successful Quit Line: Of the 46,000 Montanans who have called the Quit Line since 2004, 42,000 callers enrolled and about 30 percent, or 13,000, have successfully quit.

— DPHHS will also implement an outreach program to promote tobacco cessation among people enrolled in Medicaid. Montana Medicaid provides comprehensive coverage for cessation services for enrolled persons.

While Harvard's Connolly wasted no time in calling Montana's decline impressive, he cautions that although cigarette sales are declining nationwide, the sales of noncigarette tobacco products, particularly small cigars, have been on the rise.

Connolly, who directed the Tobacco Control Research Program at Harvard in 2008 for the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the phenomenon at the national level. "We found about 30 percent of the decline in U.S. cigarette consumption could be attributable to an increase in small cigars and smokeless tobacco," Connolly said in an interview with The Billings Gazette. "So, the overall decline in tobacco use may be illusory."

To help put that in perspective, more than $11 million was collected in taxes from the sale of other tobacco products, which is everything from cigars to roll-your-own cigarettes, in fiscal year 2010, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Reference: Snuffing out: Montanans buying fewer cigarettes by CINDY UKEN Of The Gazette Staff, The Billings Gazette, 11/6/2010.

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