Despite Overall Decline, U.S. Smokers Still Number 40 Million

By Bryan Le 07/16/14

Smoking has fallen by 50% since a half century ago, but the habit still persists among 20% of our population.


Despite smoking rates in the United States falling from 40% of Americans to 20% from half a century ago, there are still 40 million smokers left, mostly the poor and uneducated. Many smokers consider themselves "occasional" or social smokers who limit their intake to try and prevent themselves from getting addicted.

Smoking rates are higher in the gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations which have been targeted by the smoking industry. LGBT smoking rates are around 27.7%, compared to 17.3% among heterosexuals.

Menthols are becoming increasingly popular, rising from 28.7% of total cigarettes to 31.4%. The Food and Drug Administration is considering restrictions on menthols, the last flavored cigarettes, as their cooling flavors can make it easier to start smoking and harder to stop.

"It just tastes good,'' said Jay Oh, a 29-year-old waitress in Kotzebue, Ala., the county where U.S. smoking rates are the highest: 41.5% for men and 40.8% for women.

Menthols have long been popular with African-Americans, with 80% preferring the cool flavor.

About 70% of American smokers say they want to quit and 50% try to quit every year, but only about one in 20 are successful.

"I've tried gum, patches, hypnosis, and cold turkey," said Chuck Rushton, who spends $48 a week on cigarettes. "The longest I lasted was four days."

Doctors have recommended trying e-cigarettes, but smokers like Rushton have been distrustful. "You don't know what's in that stuff," he said. "I can't see inhaling a vapor that's not necessarily FDA approved."

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter