Smoking Rates Hit An All-Time Low

By Keri Blakinger 06/25/18

The rising popularity of e-cigarettes has helped drive down traditional smoking rates.

man snapping a cigarette in half

Americans are lighting up less than ever, according to newly released data from the federal government.

After yet another downtick, only about 14% of U.S. adults were still smokers last year, an all-time low that has fallen from some 42% in the 1960s when smoking was ubiquitous. 

"Everything is pointed in the right direction," K. Michael Cummings with the tobacco research program at Medical University of South Carolina told the Associated Press.

Part of the change stems from a decades-long shift in smoking bans and attitudes toward lighting up. In the 1950s and 1960s, indoor smoking was the norm in offices, planes, diners and hospitals. But as the medical community gained a better understanding of the associated health risks, anti-smoking campaigns and rising cigarette taxes pushed down cigarette use. 

In recent years, the popularity of e-cigarettes—especially among young people—has also worked to drive down smoking rates. More kids are into vaping than smoking now, and teen smoking hit a new low last year. 

While 9% of high school students reported smoking tobacco, roughly 13% said that they use e-cigs or other vaping devices, the AP reported. The practice is more prevalent among young people, as the most recent figures from 2016 estimate that only around 3% of adults choose to vape. 

Despite its rising popularity, the health impacts of vaping aren't well known. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admitted that e-cigs “generally contain fewer harmful chemicals” than regular smokes, they still contain potentially carcinogenic substances and flavoring chemicals that are linked to lung damage, according to TIME

But despite the growth in e-cig use, there are still around 30 million Americans who smoke traditional cigarettes. More men than women, and adults between the ages of 45 and 64 are the most likely to light up regularly, according to an annual survey by the National Center for Health Statistics

The latest adult smoking figures are down 2 percentage points from the year before, when 16% of the population smoked. In 2006, that figure stood around 20%. 

The new numbers come from the CDC's annual survey, which interviewed roughly 27,000 adults last year for the latest findings.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.