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The Horrifying Numbers Behind America's Smoking Habit

See just how damaging (and how hard to shake) smoking is in this new series of infographics.

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If you live in a major urban center where the government has banned smoking in bars, restaurants, and parks, you may not really be aware that people still smoke. A lot. Despite years of advertising and warnings that smoking gives you cancer, people continue to start smoking and then have a hard time stopping, due to the incredibly addictive power of nicotine.

A new series of infographics, made by the Butler Brothers for Legacy for Health and released today at the Aspen Ideas Festival, puts the problem into stark relief and shows that despite the onslaught of advertisements, we still have a long way to go before we eliminate this health problem. You can see a series of all 10 infographics in the slide show above, and some fun video versions of them below.

The first thing that’s important to think about is that this is not just a question of personal choice. Besides secondhand smoke, there are far reaching societal costs to a person deciding to smoke their entire life. Those decisions cost all of us a lot of money. Despite the fact that the average pack of cigarettes costs $6.01, the societal costs— in terms of medical bills and more—are double that, at $12.10 per pack.

Smoking is also not an equal opportunity offender. Being below the poverty line is a good determinant of whether or not you’re a smoker (having a college education usually means you’re not). Which is to say, the least well-off among us have the physical and economical burdens of a lifetime—and then we’re all dealing with the health consequences.

Knowing what we now now, you might wonder, why don’t people just quit? We’ve all heard how hard it can be, but these numbers reveal just how incredibly difficult quitting really is: Every year 52% of smokers make some attempt to quit, but only 6% succeed. Those are not good odds.

There are other facts at work here (see the whole site containing the graphics here), like how much popular culture influences kids to smoke, and the damage to the environment that cigarette butts cause—after the damage to your body. All of which goes to say that this is a problem that we may have put aside in favor of other, more sexy public health concerns, but it’s still a massive one that’s not going away despite huge expenditures—and it needs to.