CDC: Adult Smoking Rates Remain Steady

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the number of adult smokers in the United States has barely changed. According to the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 19% of adults smoked cigarettes in 2011, compared to 19.3% in 2010.

The number of adult smokers in the U.S. declined slightly but continuously between 2005 and 2011. However, 43.8 million people still smoke, and tobacco use is still the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the US. According to the 2010 US Surgeon General’s report, about 443,000 American adults die from smoking-related illnesses each year. Smoking is known to cause many types of cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke, lung disease, and other health problems.

Trend toward fewer cigarettes

Among daily smokers, there is a trend toward smoking fewer cigarettes. The proportion of those who smoked more than 30 cigarettes per day decreased from 12.6% in 2005 to 9.1% in 2011. The proportion of those who smoked less than 10 cigarettes increased from 16.4% in 2005 to 22% in 2011.

The proportion of smokers aged 18 to 24 years decreased from 24.4% in 2005 to 18.9% in 2011, the biggest decline of any age group. This age group had the highest smoking prevalence in 2005, and now has the lowest of any group younger than 65.

More Progress Needed

Even though smoking rates declined during the 5-year study period, year-to-year decreases were inconsistent, and cigarette smoking remains widespread. One in 5 adults in the US was a smoker in 2011.

As part of the federal “Healthy People” initiative, the US Department of Human Services has set a goal of reducing smoking in the US to less than 12%. At the current rates, this will take a very long time.

Part of the problem is that smoking remains higher among some groups of people than others. Smoking rates are higher in the South and Midwest and lower in the West. Smoking is more common among people who have less education, those who live below the poverty level, and those who have a disability. It is also more common among men than women.

Secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoke is also dangerous, causing heart disease and lung cancer in adult non-smokers, and respiratory infections and decreased lung function in children. It’s also linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This is a global problem.

A study published last week by the CDC found that in many low and middle income countries, exposure to secondhand smoke at home or at work is common among women of childbearing age. Among the 14 countries studied, exposure at home was highest in Vietnam at 72.3% and exposure in the workplace was highest in Egypt at 53%.

What can be done

The CDC calls for strategies that include increasing the price of cigarettes, more widespread implementation of smoke-free laws in workplaces and public places, warning about the dangers of tobacco use, and enforcing restrictions on cigarette advertisements.

According to the CDC, nearly 2 out of 3 adult smokers want to quit smoking, and more than half of them had tried to quit the previous year. It’s not easy to do, but quitting smoking has immediate benefits to health at any age, including reduced risk for heart disease and several types of cancer. A study of a million British women published last month in The Lancet found that women who quit smoking before age 40 may live 10 years longer than those who don’t quit.

The younger someone begins to use tobacco, the more likely they are to be an adult user. According to the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report on youth and smoking, if kids stay tobacco free until age 18, most will never start using it.

The American Cancer Society can help if you're ready to quit smoking. See our Guide to Quitting Smoking or call us at 1-800-227-2345. Don’t try 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 master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults – United States, 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, November 9, 2012.

The 21st century hazards of smoking and benefits of stopping: a prospective study of one million women in the UK. Published early online October 27, 2012 in The Lancet . First author: Kirstin Pirie, MSc, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current Tobacco Use and Secondhand Smoke Exposure Among Women of Reproductive Age — 14 Countries, 2008–2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, November 2, 2012.


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