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Smoking cessation sales fall as diet aids rise


ROCHESTER, N.Y. —So much for New Year’s resolutions. A Harris Poll released last month found that while the number of active American smokers has reached an all-time low, there are more Americans who can be defined as obese today as compared with years past.

When the Harris Poll first started asking questions regarding smokers in 1983, 30 percent of adults smoked cigarettes. In this year’s survey, only 17 percent did so. Looking at multi-year averages, cigarette smoking has fallen from 29 percent in the early eighties to 21 percent for 2006 to 2008.

Furthermore 8 percent of the adult population smokes cigars or pipes, or uses chewing tobacco, adding (because 3 percent of these also smoke cigarettes) 5 percent to the total number of people who use tobacco of one type or another (22 percent).

However, the lower number of smokers—which would suggest more and more smokers are attempting to quit—does not necessarily correlate to higher sales of smoking cessation products. According to data provided by the Nielsen Group, sales of anti-smoking products were down slightly, 1.8 percent, to $495.4 million across food, drug and mass (minus Wal-Mart) channels for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 23.

Nor does that lower rate of smokers correlate to fewer tobacco sales—sales of all tobacco products were up 1.1 percent in that same time period, to $8.1 billion. The majority of those sales are made up of cigarettes, which were up 1.4 percent to $7.3 billion.

A separate survey published by GlaxoSmithKline last month may help explain why a decline in the number of smokers doesn’t add up to increased smoking cessation sales—today’s smokers may dramatically underestimate the safety and efficacy of nicotine replacement therapy products for quitting smoking, which may lead to less use of proven smoking cessation therapy.

Three-of-every-4 smokers today wrongly believe or do not know whether NRT is more addictive than cigarettes. Additionally, 68 percent of smokers wrongly answered or do not know that NRT products are not as dangerous as cigarettes. Less than 3 percent of respondents answered all questions about treatment correctly, demonstrating the need for further education.

The findings were based on a study of 900 men and women adult smokers in the United States that was fielded in July 2007 by Richard Day Research through an online panel, screening for adults age 18 and over who smoke cigarettes every day. The “average” respondent in the survey was 48 years of age and started smoking when they were 16 years old, smoked 20 cigarettes per day and has tried to quit three times in the past (16 percent of respondents have never tried to quit). The survey was conducted on behalf of The American Legacy Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare.

Conversely, while fewer smokers are buying more cigarettes, an increase in the number of overweight people are battling their bulges through the purchase of more diet aids.

This year’s Harris survey found that 78 percent of adults over 25 are overweight (using the Metropolitan Life measures based on height, body frame and weight), virtually unchanged from last year’s 79 percent. Twenty-five years ago, using the same measures, “only” 58 percent were overweight. This year’s survey finds that 33 percent of all adults aged 25 and over are obese (using the definition of 20 percent or more overweight). This compares with 15 percent 25 years ago.

Averaging the data over multiple years shows the percentages of obese adults over 25 years old rising from 15 percent in the early eighties to 36 percent from 2006 to 2008.

Unlike tobacco, there is a possible correlation between an increase in fat people and the number of people looking toward diet aids to help shed those pounds, especially given the recent launch of GlaxoSmithKline’s Alli over-the-counter diet aid. Sales of all diet aids were up 29.3 percent, to $441.4 million across all channels (minus Wal-Mart) for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 23, according to the Nielsen data.

The latest survey is based on a nationwide telephone survey of 1,010 adults who were interviewed between Feb. 5 and 11, 2008.

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