Smoking Rate In United States Hits Record Low

By May Wilkerson 11/23/15

Though the switch to e-cigs may have played a role.

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Good news for those who can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke. The U.S. smoking rate has hit an all-time low. Only about 16.8% of adults smoked cigarettes in 2014, a nearly 20% drop from 2005, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is the lowest smoking rate on record.

Even those who continue to smoke are smoking less, the study found, with the average number of cigarettes smoked each day falling from 16.7 in 2005 to 13.8 in 2014. The biggest decrease was seen among young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.

The CDC attributes this decline to the success of media campaigns, new anti-smoking laws, and wider access to quitting solutions, like nicotine substitutes and online support groups. However, the rising popularity of e-cigarettes may also have played a role. The nicotine vaporizers have been controversial, with many claiming that they encourage smoking, especially among young people, or simply delay the process of quitting.

Also, the report found that quitting smoking has been more difficult for certain demographics, especially the poor. In 2014, the smoking rate remained at 29.1% for people on Medicaid and 27.9% for those with no health insurance, compared to only 12.9% among adults with private health insurance. The smoking rate among adults who earned below the poverty level was 26.3%.

Education was also a major factor. Smoking rates were a high 43% among adults with a general education development certificate (GED), compared to only 5% of adults with a graduate degree. Other groups more likely to smoke were adults ages 25-44 (20%), multiracial adults (28%), and the LGBT community (23.9%).

Focusing on these more vulnerable communities will be the final frontier in the war on smoking, said Kenneth Warner, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. "Disparities are the single most important issue in smoking,” he said. “The people who are politically influential believe the smoking problem has been solved. It's not in their neighborhoods. Their friends don't smoke. Those who still smoke are the poor, the disenfranchised, the mentally ill. That's who we need to focus on."

Cigarettes kill nearly half a million Americans annually and cost the United States more than $300 billion a year, the report said. In addition to anti-smoking mass media campaigns, the CDC urged policymakers to implement other solutions that have proven effective, including “higher tobacco taxes, strong smoke-free laws, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, and comprehensive, barrier-free health insurance coverage for smoking cessation treatments."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.