A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that the cigarette smoking rate among adults in the US is at its lowest in almost 50 years.

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The adult cigarette smoking rate in the US is at its lowest in almost 50 years, according to a new study from the CDC.

The study, published in the federal agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that the cigarette smoking rate among adults fell from 20.9% (45.1 million) in 2005 to 17.8% (42.1 million) last year.

Study author Brian King, PhD – a senior scientific advisor of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – and colleagues say the adult smoking rate in the US is now the lowest since the CDC began keeping records via its National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) in 1965.

To reach their findings, the team analyzed data from the 2013 NHIS involving 34,557 respondents aged 18 years or older and compared the information with previous NHIS data. As well as analyzing data by sex, race and ethnicity, for the first time, the researchers also assessed data by sexual orientation.

Of current cigarette smokers – defined as those who smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and smoked some days or every day at the time of interview – the percentage of adults who smoked every day fell from 80.8% in 2005 to 76.9% in 2013. The percentage of smokers who smoked cigarettes only on some days increased, however, from 19.2% in 2005 to 23.1% last year.

Among adults who reported smoking every day, the number of cigarettes smoked each day dropped from 16.7 in 2005 to 14.2 in 2013, while the percentage of daily smokers who smoked 20-29 cigarettes each day fell from 34.9% to 29.3% in 2005-2013. However, the percentage of smokers who smoked up to 10 cigarettes a day increased from 16.4% in 2005 to 23.3% last year.

But while the overall cigarette smoking rate has declined among adults in the US, it remains high among certain groups – including younger adults, males, multiple race Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives, those with a disability, those with less education and those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual.

The team explores some possible reasons for the high smoking rate among these groups. They say that those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual may be under greater stress than their straight counterparts as a result of discrimination and social stigma, while those with less education may have had limited exposure to information about the health hazards of smoking.

Commenting on these findings, the researchers say:

These disparities underscore the importance of enhancing the implementation and reach of proven strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco use among these groups, as well as expanding questions on surveillance tools to better capture data on subpopulations with the greatest burden of tobacco use.”

Cigarette smoking is the main preventable cause of disease and death in the US. More than 16 million Americans have a disease caused by smoking, and the habit is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths every year.

Fast facts about smoking
  • Of the 480,000 deaths attributable to smoking, around 41,000 are a result of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke
  • Smoking-related illnesses cost the US around $289 billion each year
  • Smoking causes around 90% of lung cancer deaths.

Learn more about smoking

With figures like these, news of an overall decline in the adult smoking rate is very welcome news. But Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, notes that much more needs to be done to help people quit smoking for good:

“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.”

King adds that while the team’s findings show that smokers are generally smoking fewer cigarettes, this will not produce the same health benefits as quitting completely. “Smokers who quit before they’re 40 years old can get back almost all of the 10 years of life expectancy smoking takes away,” he says.

According to the CDC, past surveys have shown that around 70% of all cigarette smokers would like to quit.

In 2012, the agency launched a campaign called Tips From Former Smokers, which aims to encourage people to stop smoking by providing information on real people who have experienced serious illness from smoking.

As part of the campaign, the CDC have compiled a quit guide that offers tips on how to stop smoking.

In a recent spotlight feature, Medical News Today reported on the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout campaign, which takes place on the third Thursday of November.

The campaign urges smokers to make a plan to quit smoking for good or just quit smoking for that day. “By quitting, even for 1 day,” say the American Cancer Society, “smokers will be taking an important step toward a healthier life – one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.”