City revenue from the sale of tobacco has decreased by 7 percent between 2018 and 2017.
The decrease is a continuation of a trend that has been taking place for the past 20 years, although the decrease in revenue doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer smokers.
The loss of money to St. Joseph could be offset by community health benefits like fewer medical bills, although some in the medical community may have not seen a significant decline.
Five years ago, the City of St. Joseph Health Department supported a smoke-free ordinance inside restaurants and bars. Voters approved the ban, which also included e-cigarettes, but the previous St. Joseph City Council decided to remove e-cigarettes from the ordinance and lower the outside smoking distance from establishments.
Health educator for the Health Department Nancy King isn’t surprised by the decline in tobacco sales.
“I think this is part of an overall trend from the past 20 years that the tax revenue has gone down, which means that people are recognizing smoking is not healthy,” King said. “There’s a great resource in the tobacco quitline, 800-QUIT-NOW, they have email, texting, phone calls, they have quit coaches and sometimes they even have nicotine replacement.”
Tobacco sales totaled $318,915 in 2018, a decrease of almost $120,000 from 2012. However, health-related issues caused by smoking are still a concern, according to Dr. Jane Schwabe, cardiothoracic surgeon for Mosaic Life Care. She treats heart- and lung-related illnesses.
“At least my perception in this area is that smoking rates have kind of stayed about the same,” Schwabe said. “It takes about 20 years for lung cancer really to develop before you would see it.”
Smokers who may have spent years smoking at bars simply may have stepped outside to continue doing so, but the ordinance may have directly affected two professions. Bartenders and servers are going on five years without indoor exposure to smoking.
When the ordinance passed, The Missourian, a bar located on the South Side, said they would have to close their doors from the smoking ban. The Missourian reopened a year later under new leadership. Joyce Stevenson owns the bar now.
“We have gained customers that are non-smokers; we’ve lost customers that are smokers so it’s gone both directions,” Stevenson said. “People do appreciate the fact that there is no smoke in the bar. As a bartender of many years, I appreciate the fact there’s no smoke in the bar.”
The science is unconclusive on e-cigarettes and vaping. Some claim it is a good way to wean smokers from traditional cigarettes, while others have said it’s a gateway to it.
The tobacco companies have “marketed themselves very well,” Schwabe said. “Vaping comes in all different forms including fruit flavored and bubblegum flavored, which tends to appeal to younger audiences, particularly the middle school and high school kids.”