CDC Reports Decline in Number of U.S. Smokers

A new report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that many U.S. adults are giving up cigarettes. Despite the number of U.S. smokers staying mostly the same for the past decade, a new survey showed that the smoking rate is now down to an all-time low of 18%.

The CDC reports that smoking rates hovered around 20% for seven years before dipping to 19% in 2010. This rate held steady until 2012, when a new survey revealed that only 18% of American adults are still lighting up. This has brought up a lot of speculation over what is causing people to finally give up the cigarette habit.

The preliminary report was released on Tuesday, with the CDC showing results from a recent survey among American adults. The survey did not include adolescents so it does not give us any definitive answer on whether smoking rates have declined among teens as well. Among the 35,000 people who participated in the survey, the major of smokers were male and the lowest rates of tobacco use were among adults over age 65.

Joshua Yang works as a tobacco control researcher for the University of California in San Francisco. He weighed in on the new report, offering his thoughts on why smoking rates are falling. According to Yang, the three biggest factors are the increase in tobacco tax, stricter smoking restrictions, and an emphasis on tobacco education.

Richard Grucza, associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University, agreed with Yang. Grucza credited new smoking bans and restrictions on the decrease in smokers. Many people have chosen to give up cigarettes rather than deal with the inconvenience of new restrictions.

The CDC’s recent ad campaign could also be a possible cause for the decline. Last year, the CDC released new graphic ads featuring disturbing videos, photos, and stories of former smokers. According to the CDC, they received calls from 200,000 smokers looking for help to give up tobacco after viewing the new ads.

One of the most obvious causes for declining tobacco use could be the constant increase in the price of cigarettes. Higher tobacco taxes have made smoking unaffordable for many Americans, particularly young smokers that have a tight budget. The CDC stated that by increasing the price of cigarettes by only 10% creates a 4% reduction in cigarette use among American’s young people.

Washington University released a June 13 study in the American Journal of Public Health that linked stricter age limits with decreased tobacco use. The report showed that states that have the highest age limits for tobacco use have the lowest incidence of smoking in the country. It’s possible that as some states increase the legal age to purchase tobacco, rates decline, as teens can no longer buy cigarettes at their local stores.

According to Darmouth Medical School’s cancer control program, the lower incidence of smoking could be traced back to changes in Hollywood. Smoking has become less popular on the Hollywood scene. In the past, cigarettes were used in many movies and television shows, but that is no longer the case. In 1998, the Master Settlement Agreement made it illegal for tobacco companies to advertise on television. Interestingly, smoking rates have declined among Americans just as they have declined in appearance in movies and television.

Beyond the higher tobacco costs costs, graphic anti-smoking advertising, and reduction of cigarettes in Hollywood appearances, there is another factor that is certainly worth consideration. As tobacco use is going down, the number of people using electronic cigarettes is on the rise. More and more Americans have stopped using cigarettes, turning to e-cigarettes as a tobacco-free alternative. Not only are e-cigarettes tobacco-free, but they are also more cost effective in the long run. Each time a smoker chooses electronic cigarettes, there is one less sale for the tobacco industry.

Even with the less Americans using tobacco, cigarettes still pose a major threat to public health. Experts say that one in five U.S. deaths can be linked to tobacco. Smoking results in $50 billion to $73 billion in medical expenses every year.

San Diego State University’s professor of global health spoke out this week about the declining smoking rates. Thomas Novotny issued a word of caution to people who believe the battle against tobacco is nearly over. “We are a long way from the end game on tobacco use,” he said. “It is too early to declare victory. It is encouraging to see that the prevalence rate has finally edged downwards for adults after lingering above 20% for so long. Nevertheless, we still have 45 million or so smokers in the U.S. and so we still have an enormous challenge to try to reduce this number further.”

While Americans rightly celebrate this week’s CDC report and the decline in tobacco use, the future remains uncertain. Will smoking rates continue to decline in the coming years? Why do you think fewer American adults are lighting up these days?

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Author Focus: Katie Bercham
Katie actually had a negative first experience of electronic cigarettes, picking up a cheap and horrible model from my local mall. Thanks to a chance meeting with co-editor David, she hasn’t had a tobacco cigarette in over 2 years. She brings a strong female voice to the e-cig community... Read Full Profile >