Lighting a cigarette in many circles these days is viewed as somewhere between packing an assault weapon and swilling a full-sugar soft drink — in other words, pretty low on the social acceptance scale.
Nevertheless, more than 40 million Americans still are puffing away on tobacco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, costing the economy hundreds of billions of dollars in lost productivity and health care expenses, the center says. A recent Gallup survey, in fact, pegs the loss to employers alone at a staggering $278 billion a year.
The topic is in the air lately, between New York City’s announcement that it will ban the sale of cigs to people under age 21, and news of a recent survey that finds most smokers think about quitting on Mondays. Not sure that is much of a surprise — I’d imagine more people think about quitting potato chips, recreational shopping and online dating on Mondays than on Saturday nights, as well — but it’s a great peg for a story about the smoking cessation industry, which really revs up this month due to the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout.
This year, the day set aside for quitting smoking — or at least trying to — is Nov. 21, and you can bet that stop-smoking businesses are revving up.
Smoking cessation industry. From drugs to software to apps to hypnotism, goods and services aimed at helping people kick the habit amounts to a billion-dollar industry; says the analytics firm Mintel Inc. You might want to search out your area’s practitioners and purveyors of mainstream methods (via health care systems, employee assistance plans and doctors) as well as non-traditional methods like acupuncture and other quirky methods as outlined by this WebMD roundup.
Don’t forget about pharmaceuticals like gum, patches and pills, another multi-billion market. Since many products will now be covered 100 percent under Obamacare rules, will consumption and hence profits increase? (The investment angle might be apropos here.)
E-cigarettes. Rechargeable batteries about the same size as a regular cigarette, fitted with cartridges that may contain nicotine and other substances, e-cigarettes are bursting out this year — Yahoo! Finance says they are expected to be a $10 billion industry within a few years — and are great fodder for smoking-related stories, from the financial opportunities they present for purveyors (I’ve seen multi-level marketing a la Avon, and don’t forget the traditional tobacco industry is anxious to cash in as well) to the dilemma they pose for smoke-free restaurants, airlines, workplaces and the like. Though the vapor that smokers exhale after puffing on an e-cig is mostly water — like your breath, but more concentrated — the appearance of the cig and the “smoke” is confusing to bystanders and most companies seem to favor just banning them to avoid hassles. Here’s a recent New York Times story about the growth of the industry.
Workplace. The days of lighting up in the break room or even in the parking lot are long gone, but smoking still has implications for job seekers, those getting employer-sponsored health insurance and liability for damage caused by secondhand smoke. It’s mostly health systems that refuse to hire smokers, but you might nose around for other examples. And with open enrollment season for employment benefits afoot, you might check in on the area’s major employers to see which plans penalize smokers, reward quitting or offer the best benefits for smoking cessation.
As always, take the contrarian angle as well. Tobacco products makers spend a lot in advertising and employ workers in jobs ranging from growing and harvesting the weed to printing promotional materials to stocking retail store shelves; you might take a look at “who loses?” as smoking is curbed, from cigar bars to smoke shops to farmers. (This Environmental Working Group database on tobacco subsidies is an eye-opener.)