In 17 states where the federal government spent $128 million to discourage tobacco use, smoking dropped by about 3 percentage points in eight years, over half a point more than in other states.
The program reduced the number of smokers in the target states by about 104,000, estimated Frances A. Stillman of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Translating the results to the entire nation, the American Stop Smoking Intervention Study, or ASSIST, would have cut the number of smokers by about 278,700, said Stillman, first author of a study appearing today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
ASSIST trained local groups to lobby for higher cigarette taxes and laws for smoke-free environments. It also mounted a public relations effort and worked to limit underage access to tobacco.
The program spent about $1,200 for each smoker who kicked the habit. Elizabeth A. Gilpin, a UC San Diego researcher and a coauthor of the study, called that cost "a real bargain."