What do you know? Smoking bans are working.
For proof, look no further than the state's tobacco tax collections.
For the current budget year, the state has taken in just over $100 million in tobacco taxes, down $2.44 million from the same point in 2010. (If my math is correct, that works out to 4.45 million fewer packs of cigarettes sold this year than last.)
That's nearly a 2 1/2 percent decline in consumption, far steeper than the 0.6 percent annual decline projected by Mark Muchow and the financial wizards over at the Department of Revenue.
Nationally, the decline is even sharper, as Citigroup's Paul Creedon recently told the state Tobacco Settlement Finance Authority.
When West Virginia sold its rights to future Tobacco Settlement payments in 2007 in an $807 million bond issue, investors who purchased the bonds were working on the assumption that U.S. cigarette consumption would decline at a rate of 3 percent a year.
Instead, sales dropped 9.3 percent in 2009, and another 6.5 percent in 2010. As a result, annual settlement payments have dropped accordingly.
A decade ago, the major tobacco-pushers -- er, manufacturers -- were sending West Virginia an annual settlement check totaling nearly $80 million. This year's payment barely topped $60 million.
(West Virginia wasn't the only state to bond out its rights to future settlement payments. A total of about $56 billion of settlement bonds were sold, and the steep decline in consumption, and thus payments, has investors worried that the bonds could go into default, prompting this headline in one financial journal: "Tobacco bonds will kill you.")
It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out what's causing the steep drop in cigarette consumption: Widespread bans on smoking in public places. Nicotine addicts may not be quitting outright, but their ability to consume wherever and whenever they want has been sharply restricted.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 43 states now have smoke-free laws, including 26 states where the bans are total, applying to all workplaces, restaurants and bars.
Naturally, one of the seven states without a smoke-free law is West Virginia, which instead relies on a hodge-podge of local health department ordinances to protect the public's health.
Why is West Virginia bringing up the rear? Maybe it's because our legislators are ... what's the word? Cowards.
Meanwhile, we saw the true value of smoking bans in the study released last week showing that local hospitalization rates for heart attacks had plunged 37 percent since the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department enacted its strict ban on smoking. (Results that have been replicated in numerous similar studies of smoking bans around the country.)
There are those who would say West Virginia would be in a bind without it's tobacco tax revenues, but when you consider that the state has an overall annual operating budget of $11.4 billion, $100 million is a drop in the bucket.
Besides, the cost savings to Medicaid and PEIA would far, far exceed the lost revenue if tobacco use ceased statewide.