U.S. Smoking Rate Hits All-Time Low, New CDC Data Says

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June 20, 2018


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About 14 percent of U.S. adults said they were smokers last year — that’s down from 16 percent the year before and down from about 20 percent in 2006, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The 14 percent mark represents a new low, and a significant drop-off from the highest rates recorded more than 50 years ago.

More than 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked in the years preceding the landmark 1964 report from the Surgeon General of the United States that essentially ushered in a widespread anti-smoking campaign — one that may have saved about 8 million lives, according to studies cited recently by the Surgeon General’s office. That 1964 report was the first to detail the health hazards of smoking, linking the tobacco habit to higher risks of cancer and heart disease.

The new data on adult smokers were derived from a national health survey by the NCHS. About 27,000 adults were interviewed last year. Men (16 percent) are more likely to smoke than women (12 percent).

The percentage of former cigarette smokers was higher for men (25.7 percent) than for women (19.5 percent), the the new data found. The percentage of those who had never smoked cigarettes was higher for women (68.3 percent) than for men (58.5 percent).

Smoking represents, by far, the largest risk factor for lung cancer, and it is responsible for more than 80 percent of diagnosed cases. Most significantly, lung cancer is the No. 1 killer among all cancers. Anti-smoking campaigns, increasing taxes on tobacco products and widespread smoking bans have contributed to bringing down the adult smoking rate, experts say.

But not all is positive. As cigarettes’ popularity declines, e-cigarettes — or so-called vaping products — have become particularly popular among young people. E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among both high school and middle school students, according to the CDC. Around 12 percent high schoolers “vaped in 2017,” previous reported CDC data shows, compared to about 3 percent of U.S. adults as of 2016.

“Many people start smoking in their teens when they’re young and impressionable,” says Juan Carlos Batlle, M.D., chief of thoracic imaging at Baptist Health South Florida. “Unfortunately, cigarettes are addicting and people end up with this life-long problem.”

The new CDC data did not provide new information on the adult use of e-cigarettes and vaping products.

The health-related effects of vaping are not completely understood, but some studies have shown that it may promote other forms of tobacco use among youth. As a result, the U.S Food and Drug Administration has prioritized limiting the access to e-cigarettes among teenagers.

The 10 million adults and teenagers who vape regularly in the U.S. are exposing themselves to various levels of toxic chemicals, according to a new study. The FDA is considering restricting the use of menthol and other flavoring in cigarettes, the latest move by the agency to restrict the addictive qualities of tobacco and prevent young people from picking up the habit of smoking.

For those who still smoke cigarettes, Dr. Battle says that society has created a “stigma” that is preventing some ex-smokers from taking necessary action, such as seeking out low-dose CT lung cancer screenings, which are quick, safe, non-invasive and affordable.

More than three years ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) approved annual low-dose CT lung cancer screenings for adults ages 55 through 80 who have a “30 pack-year” history of smoking (described as a pack a day for 30 years; two packs a day for 15 years, and so on), or who have quit smoking in the past 15 years. That means that most health insurers are covering these screenings at little to no cost for ex-smokers who qualify.

“Ex-smokers have been unfairly stigmatized for their behavior,” says Dr. Batlle. “They feel that since they smoked, nobody cares about them. But we need to remove that stigma. And make it easier for them to make the choice to get screened.”

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