For almost three decades, from the late 1950s to the late 1980s, Americans consumed an average of more than 125 packs of cigarettes a year. But the combination of higher taxes on tobacco products and more education on the dangers of smoking has led to a precipitous decline in the number of people who light up. Today, Americans consume just over 46 packs of cigarettes per capita every year.
The map-making magicians at Metric Maps used that data, from an annual report on the tax burden of tobacco prepared by the Federation of Tax Administrators, to show that decline on a state-by-state basis. In 1970, residents in all but two states smoked more than 90 packs of cigarettes a year. By 2012, residents of just three states — Kentucky, West Virginia and New Hampshire — smoke that much.
Here’s what that looks like:
Today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia levy taxes on packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products. That wasn’t always the case: Iowa instituted the first tobacco tax, way back in 1921; that year, the state collected $324,000 in taxes. North Carolina was the last holdout; the Tar Heel State levied its first tax on cigarettes, 2 cents a pack, in 1969.
Those taxes are much higher today. New York levies a $4.35 tax on cigarettes, and four other states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Washington — charge at least $3 extra per pack. Even tobacco-producing North Carolina has bolstered its taxes, to 45 cents a pack. In 2012, 594 cities and counties in seven states added their own taxes, boosting the prices even further. Cigarette sales generated $126 million in revenue for New York City alone, more than a quarter of the total city and county tax generated across the country.
Taxes make up more than half the price of an average pack of cigarettes in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and the District, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators’ report. On average, taxes make up just over 44 percent of the price of a pack nationwide.
Cigarette smoking may have declined, but taxes have increased at such a dramatic rate that tax income continues to rise. In 2012, states collected more than $18.2 billion in tobacco tax revenue (though that trend may be changing: Tax revenue actually declined between 2011 and 2012, the first year-over-year decline since 1978-1979).
Utah has always been one of the cleaner-living states, the report shows. Even near peak cigarette use in the 1970s, Utah residents were smoking 66 packs per capita, the lowest rate in the country. Today, residents consume just 23 packs per capita, lower than any state other than Washington and New York.