Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health

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How many people use tobacco?

Cigarette smoking has decreased among adults in the United States from about 42% of the population in 1965 to about 18% in 2012 (the latest year for which numbers are available).But it’s still the most common form of tobacco use in the US: about 42 million (somewhat fewer than1 in every 5) adults currently smoke cigarettes. About 21% of men and 16% of women were cigarette smokers in 2012. Education is linked to smoking rates, with lower smoking rates in groups with higher levels of education. More people smoke cigarettes in the Midwest (21%) and South (20%), and fewer smoke in the West (14%).

Tobacco use does not end with cigarettes; other forms of tobacco use are common. In 2013, a survey by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration reported that 13.4 million people smoked cigars, and 2.5 million people smoked tobacco in pipes. The same survey reported 9 million people used smokeless or spit tobacco.

Is tobacco use common among young people?

Yes. Tobacco use, including smoking cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, and hookahs, as well as using chew or spit tobacco such as snus and snuff, is common among American youth, according to the most recent government surveys.

Despite declines in recent years, in 2012 nearly 1 in 4 male high school students (23%) and nearly 1 in 5 female high school students (18%) were found to be current users of some type of tobacco.

Nearly 1 in 7 students (14%) were considered current cigarette smokers. Typically, about half of these students report that they’ve tried to quit smoking during the past year.

Cigar smoking was also common among high school students (about 8% of females and 17% of males). Even though flavorings are no longer allowed in cigarettes, “little cigars” (which often look like brown cigarettes) are sold in candy and fruit flavors that appeal to youth.

Also in 2012, about 7% of middle school students used some form of tobacco, with cigarettes (nearly 4%) being the most common. Almost 3% had smoked cigars.

In both middle school and high school, tobacco use was higher among male students for all products.

Behavioral problems have also been linked to smoking. Studies have shown that students who smoke are also more likely to use other drugs, get in fights, carry weapons, try to kill themselves, and take part in risky sex.

Last Medical Review: 02/13/2014
Last Revised: 02/13/2014