Smoking rates in the US have hit a record low, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though the findings reveal smoking rates remain high for American adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid.

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Smoking rates in the US have hit an all-time low, but the CDC say more progress is needed to reach the Healthy People 2020 goal of a 12% or lower smoking rate in the next 5 years.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the US, responsible for more than 480,000 – or 1 in 5 – deaths annually. What is more, over 17 million Americans are living with a smoking-related disease.

In recent years, however, smoking rates in the US have been in decline, and it seems this trend may be set to continue.

Published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the new study revealed that overall smoking rates among adults in the US have fallen from 20.9% in 2005 to 16.8% in 2014 – the lowest rate on record. Between 2013-14, smoking rates fell by 1% alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the findings show significant progress is being made toward the Healthy People 2020 goal, which is to reduce the smoking rate in the US to 12% or lower in the next 5 years.

Additionally, the study revealed a reduction in the average number of cigarettes smoked daily, falling from 16.7 in 2005 to 13.8 in 2014. The researchers say this result was steered by a reduction in the overall proportion of adults who smoke at least 20 cigarettes daily.

While there is no doubt these findings are positive, it is not all good news – particularly for people without medical insurance and those who are on Medicaid.

The study found smoking rates among these two groups remain high, at 27.9% and 29.1%, respectively. These rates are almost double those of people with Medicare, at 12.5%, and those with private insurance, at 12.9%.

The CDC note that, at present, there is a lack of consistency in the delivery of smoking cessation treatments.

For example, though all 50 state Medicaid programs have offered some smoking cessation treatment for Medicaid enrollees this year, only nine states have provided all seven cessation treatments approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have offered one-to-one and group counseling.

However, the CDC note that The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is increasing health insurance coverage among Americans, and it is also thought the program will boost coverage of smoking cessation treatments.

The new study also identified other significant differences in smoking rates in the US in 2014.

Men were around 4% more likely to smoke than women, and the smoking rate for adults aged 25-44 was higher than the overall smoking rate, at 20%.

Fast facts about smoking
  • Smoking can cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among other conditions
  • Around 42,000 deaths in the US each year are attributable to secondhand smoke exposure
  • Smokers die an average of 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

Learn more about smoking

The smoking rate was also higher for multiracial adults (27.9%) and American-Indian/Alaska Natives (29.2%).

The smoking rate for people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual stood at 23.9%, and it was 21.9% for those who had a disability or limitation.

Individuals with a General Education Development certificate were found to have a particularly high smoking rate, at 43%, while individuals who lived below the federal poverty line had a smoking rate of 26.3%.

According to Brian King, PhD, deputy director for research translation at the CDC Office on Smoking and Health, these results highlight the need to ensure strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco use reach all populations, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

“Comprehensive smoke-free laws, higher prices for tobacco products, high-impact mass media campaigns, and barrier-free access to quitting help are all important,” he adds. “They work to reduce the enormous health and financial burden of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure among Americans.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting flavored tobacco may be a primary driver behind tobacco smoking in teenagers.