Cigarette Smoking Drops, Yet Remains a Significant Cause of Cancer Deaths

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that cigarette smoking among adults in the US has dropped from 20.9% in 2005 to 17.8% in 2013. It’s a decrease from 45.1 million smokers in 2005 to 42.1 million in 2013, despite the increasing population in the US. It’s the lowest prevalence of adult cigarette smoking since the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) began keeping records in 1965.

The report was published November 28, 2014 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“There is encouraging news in this study, but we still have much more work to do to help people quit,” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, in a statement. “We can bring down cigarette smoking rates much further, much faster, if strategies proven to work are put in place like funding tobacco control programs at the CDC-recommended levels, increasing prices of tobacco products, implementing and enforcing comprehensive smoke-free laws, and sustaining hard-hitting media campaigns.”

Although rates have dropped overall, cigarette smoking remains especially high among certain groups, including those living below the poverty level, those who have less education, Americans of multiple race, American Indians/Alaska Natives, those who live in the South or Midwest, those who have a disability or limitation, and those who are lesbian/gay/bisexual. Data specific to sexual orientation were collected for the first time by the CDC in 2013. Men also have higher smoking rates than women.

Cigarettes cause about 30% of cancer deaths

Despite the drop in smoking rates, cigarettes still cause about 30% of cancer deaths in the US, according to a study by the American Cancer Society.

Researchers used the CDC data on smoking rates as well as scientific evidence about the risks of smoking to calculate the percentage of cancer deaths caused by smoking cigarettes. Conservatively counting only excess deaths from cancer types established as smoking-related by the US Surgeon General’s office, they estimated that 28.7% of all cancer deaths were caused by smoking. Cancer types officially established as caused by smoking include cancer of the liver, colon, lung, oral cavity, esophagus, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), stomach, pancreas, bladder, kidney, and cervix, and acute myeloid leukemia. When the researchers calculated deaths more comprehensively, including excess deaths among smokers from all cancer types, they estimated that 31.7% of all cancers deaths were caused by smoking.

Smoking comes in other forms

Neither the CDC study nor the American Cancer Society study was designed to include forms of tobacco other than cigarettes. However, cigars, pipes, and tobacco smoked in hookahs contain the same cancer-causing ingredients found in cigarettes and cause similar health problems.

According to the CDC, despite declines in cigarette smoking over the past 50 years, there has been no decrease in the use of other tobacco products among American adults. And the use of electronic cigarettes is growing rapidly. According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 adult smokers of traditional cigarettes in the US have also tried e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine, which is addictive. They also deliver flavorings and other ingredients into the lungs. The makers of e-cigarettes say the ingredients are safe, but research hasn’t yet established whether this is true. A study done by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found cancer-causing substances in half the e-cigarette samples tested.

The American Cancer Society can help if you're ready to quit smoking or know someone who is. See our Guide to Quitting Smoking or call us at 1-800-227-2345. You don’t need to do it alone – getting help increases your chances of success

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults — United States, 2005–2013. Published in the November 28, 2014 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 63(47);1108-1112. First author Ahmed Jamal, MBBS, CDC, Atlanta, Ga.

What proportion of cancer deaths in the contemporary United States is attributable to cigarette smoking? Published November 28, 2014 in Annals of Epidemiology. First author Eric J. Jacobs, PhD, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

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