Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Smoking Cessation Health Center

Font Size

Smoking Rate Is Declining in U.S.

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans Smoke Cigarettes
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 13, 2008 -- The percentage of Americans who smoke cigarettes has fallen below 20% for the first time since at least the mid-1960s, according to a new report.

The CDC says in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that the prevalence of smoking fell in 2007 to 19.8%, nearly a full percentage point from 20.8% in 2006.

"This is good news," Matthew McKenna, MD, MPH, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, tells WebMD. "But deaths related to cigarette smoking are still increasing. Almost one in five adult Americans smoke, and many former smokers are succumbing to their habit again."

Tom Glynn, PhD, director of International Cancer Control of the American Cancer Society, says the CDC report shows that major progress is being made in the government's war on smoking, but hard battles still loom.

"This is the lowest level since the late 1920s, at least," Glynn tells WebMD. "We've gotten back to where we were more than 80 years ago."

The CDC says cigarette smoking prevalence has been dropping steadily among Americans 18 and older since it began keeping records in 1965, when 42.4% smoked. The proportion dropped below 30% for the first time in 1987, when 28.8% of Americans smoked.

"We think the proportion is dropping because of excise taxes that make cigarettes more expensive, smoke-free laws [that apply to most workplaces], and the availability of counseling and medications," McKenna says.

In 2007, the CDC says 22.3% of adult males and 17.4% of adult women smoked. It says 19.8% of African-Americans smoked in 2007, and 21.4% of whites.

The CDC says 443,000 deaths annually are attributed to tobacco use.

Lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death among men and women, kills about 157,000 Americans a year. A greater number of people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

Trying to Quit Smoking

"The most important thing people can do if they are smoking is to quit," McKenna says. "These studies show 30% to 40% of smokers try to quit, but chances of being successful without help are only 4% to 5%."

Progress would be better if more people were aware that their doctors could help and if they knew about a toll-free counseling "quit line" offering advice at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669), McKenna tells WebMD.

The report also says that:

  • 43.4 million Americans are smokers.
  • Smoking has declined over at least the past 40 years among all socio-demographic groups.
  • Smoking prevalence varies according to education levels. Smokers who had a general education development diploma had the highest prevalence rate at 44%. People with nine to 11 years of education had a prevalence rate of 33.3%, compared with 11.4% of those with college degrees and 6.2% with graduate degrees.
  • Mortality rates for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) increased 8% from 2000 to 2005.
  • COPD deaths among women rose to 60,229 annually between 2000 and 2004, up from 56,363 between 1997 and 2001. Among men, annual deaths remained about the same in both periods at 58,000. COPD, which is treatable, is caused mainly by cigarette smoking, but also occupational hazards, air pollution, and secondhand smoke.
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke resulted in 5.1 million years of potential life lost during 2000-2004 and $96.8 billion in annual productivity losses ($64.2 billion for males, $32.6 billion for females.)

Today on WebMD

hands breaking a cigarette
Is quitting cold turkey an effective method?
ashtray
14 tips to get you through the first hard days.
 
smoking man
Surprising impacts of tobacco on the body.
cigarette smoke
What happens when you kick the habit?
 

Filtered cigarettes
ARTICLE
an array of e cigarettes
ARTICLE
 
human heart
ARTICLE
Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms
ARTICLE
 

man smoking cigarette
ARTICLE
no smoking sign
VIDEO
 
Woman ashing cigarette in ashtray
ARTICLE
chain watch
ARTICLE