It shouldn't come as a surprise as a lot can happen in twenty years. While the active number of cigarette smokers in the United States has been falling over the last half a century, there are some surprising new numbers from Wisconsin that spell good news for the overall general health of residents.

Those same numbers, though are creating other problems and challenges.

According to details just shared by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, legal sales of cigarettes declined in Wisconsin over the last twenty years by half. Said differently, that means that 50% less cigarettes were sold to smokers in 2022 than in 2001.

And while it might seem strange that smoking-related statistics are coming from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, it shouldn't; cigarettes are taxed, which means that the agency has a good handle on exactly how many packs of the product are sold at any given time.

The latest statistics are interesting in that they detail better health habits for Wisconsin's residents:

"According to figures from the [Wisconsin] state Department of Revenue, in 2001, just under 420 million packs of cigarettes were legally sold in Wisconsin. Last year [2022], just under 193 million packs of cigarettes were legally sold in the state. The amount of sales last year represented fewer than half of the total packs legally sold in 2001."

One thing is for certain: "fewer smokers mean lower rates of disability and diseases like cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, as well as lower public and private health care costs".

Those sales numbers correlate with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have seen over the same period.  Unlike the Department of Revenue - which tracks sales numbers for tax purposes - the CDC tracks the total number of people who consider themselves "smokers".

Those CDC numbers match up with what the Department of Revenue has seen over the same time period:

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 13.3% of Wisconsin adults were current smokers in 2021. That number was as high as 24.1% in 2000."

So what's gone on to cause the drop in both cigarette sales and the total number of smokers - especially in Wisconsin?

Experts cite a varied number of things that have come together to instigate the falling numbers. From "public health messaging, the growth of substitute products [think vapes, etc.] to changes in federal, state, and local policies". But perhaps the biggest reason that cigarette sales in Wisconsin dropped so much has to do with taxing:

" likely contributor that stands out in Wisconsin is the multiple, significant tax rate increases the state put in place in 2002, 2008, and 2009."

So what's the problem, then? What it all comes down to eventually for most things: money. And in the case of the State of Wisconsin, that means revenue.

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At one point in time, the State of Wisconsin used to receive "more than 4% of its overall tax revenues from cigarette sales". It goes without saying that if fewer packs of cigarettes are being sold, the state is collecting less tax revenue per purchase.

Just how much that revenue has fallen is complicated to calculate specifically, due to the three different tax rate hikes during the past 20 years. However, comparing cigarette tax revenues over the last 12 years since the last rate increase (in 2009), you can get a sense of what's going on:

"In fiscal year 2010....the cigarette tax generated $644.3 million - 4.3% of state taxes that year.... Total collections in fiscal year 2022 were $482.4 million, or 2.0% of all state taxes. After factoring in inflation, that represents a 44.2% decline in cigarette tax revenues over the last 12 years."

The current tax on a legal pack of cigarettes in the State of Wisconsin is $2.52. That number is "above the media (sic) of $1.78" across the country.

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