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U.S. Cigarette Sales Hit 55-Year Low

Cigarette sales hit a 55-year low in 2005 and have fallen by more than 21 percent since state attorneys general negotiated a landmark settlement with the industry eight years ago, newly released figures show.

The National Association of Attorneys General said Wednesday that the 378 billion cigarettes sold in the United States last year marked the lowest number sold since 1951, a time period in which the U.S. population more than doubled.

"The continuing long-term decline shows that we are winning the battle against cigarette smoking," the attorneys general of Iowa, Idaho, California and Utah said at the association's annual spring conference.

Cigarette sales declined 4.2 percent last year from 2004, one of the largest one-year percentage decreases since 1999.

"I think we're reaching a tipping point, where the image of tobacco is that it's unhealthy and dangerous, and not glamorous like years ago or neutral like the cigarette companies say now," Tom Miller, Iowa's attorney general, told the Washington Post.

"We've seen a big drop in cigarette smoking, but I think we can still cut the smoking rate substantially more," he said.

The attorneys general focused particular attention on stopping the sale of cigarettes to youth. The national group is pursuing agreements with major retailers so that they don't sell tobacco products to underage youth. The attorneys general are suing Internet tobacco vendors who sell tobacco products without verifying the buyers' age.

According to the Washington Post, federal studies show that about 21.7 percent of high school students still smoke, as do 20.9 percent of adults --about 45 million Americans 18 and older.

The 1998 settlement between the tobacco companies and the states prohibited the targeting of youth in cigarette ads, bars outdoor ads of cigarettes and the advertising of cigarettes in public transportation systems.

The association of state attorneys general says that by banning ads like those featuring "Joe Camel" and expanding aggressive anti-smoking ad campaigns, the message that many young people are getting is dramatically different from the one of 10 years ago, when teenage smoking was on the rise.

The heart of the 1998 settlement, however, is the $246 billion being paid to settle lawsuits over cigarette-related health costs, the Washington Post reports. Tobacco companies generally passed their costs along in the form of higher prices, which in turn has also reduced cigarette sales.

Tobacco causes over 400,000 deaths a year in the United States, making it the largest preventable cause of death.

The figures cited by the attorneys general were compiled by the Tobacco Tax Bureau of the Treasury Department using data the federal government gathers when it collects taxes on cigarette sales.

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