The American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout is coming up on Nov. 15 and it’s an opportunity for you to check out the various ways smoking and related activities ripple throughout your area’s economy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 45 million Americans smoke cigarettes - about 21 percent of men and 17 percent of women nationwide. Of people living below the poverty level, more than 28 percent smoke, while the prevalence of smoking wanes as education levels go up, according to this CDC fact sheet on adult smoking. Here also is a CDC Vital Signs map which shows the prevalence of smoking by states; California and Utah have the fewest indulgers, while some southern and midwestern states have the greatest number of smokers.
Clearly smoking is a public health problem, with nearly half a million Americans dying each year due to related diseases, including secondhand smoke exposure, at a cost to insurers, consumers and taxpayers of some $96 billion a year, according to the CDC. So if your beat includes the business of health care, you might look into new technology for diagnosis or treatments for cancer, breathing problems and heart disease, or talk with medical system executives about the toll smoking takes on community resources (especially since smokers do, according to those CDC numbers, tend to be poorer and perhaps less likely to have health insurance?)
The business of smoking cessation would be an interesting feature; while many non-profits like the American Lung Association offer programs, there also is a for-profit quit-smoking industry, not least of which is the pharmaceutical angle with products such as Chantix and Nicorette; if you cover pharma, check in with companies on your beat about other products or therapies that might be under development or trial. And check in with for-profit firms like Smokenders, a decades-old workshop that says it’s now offering an online program as well (much as Weight Watchers and other self-help programs have added Internet offerings.) And of course, alternative therapies such as acupuncture, hypnosis and counseling are out there; why not produce a round-up of available options, their costs and efficacy or relapse rates as a reader clip-and-save.
Smoking also is a workplace issues; employers have a financial stake in encouraging those it helps insure to quit, and of course workplace smoking policies also are a contentious topic. There are even increasing incidences of employers who refuse to hire smokers, and this is an ongoing issue in employment law because some people consider it discrimination. This would be an interesting angle to pursue especially in a difficult jobs market; are people giving up smokes in exchange for a chance at a job, or hiding their habit? How is it confirmed that a worker doesn’t smoke, and what about other bad habits like poor eating habits, excessive alcohol consumption and prescription drug abuse — is it fair that people with those issues may fly under the radar when smokers don’t? Interesting questions for employers and legal experts in your market.
Farming. If you’re in an area with tobacco farming, check in on the USDA Tobacco Transition program that aims to help those dependent on old tobacco quota programs “transition to the free market.”
Smoking bans. How have they changed the landscape of bars, restaurants and other venues in your area, if at all? Here’s a Wikipedia compilation of nationwide smoking bans.
Smoke shops. I see them come and go in strip malls around here; what’s the busienss model and how do they fare as fewer take up the habit?
E-cigarettes. Some use them as a quit-smoking tool, others to evade indoor smoking bans. You can find purveyors and customers often at mall kiosks and other small outlets; again, an interesting small business and industry trends story, with a personal finance angle too — are e-cigs cheaper to use than traditional smokes?