US national smoking rates flat across past 5 years.

On November 13th I commented on a new report on smoking rates and secondhand smoke exposure by state. I was relatively positive in that article, largely because my own state of New Jersey continued to show lower smoking rates (now consistently 3rd lowest in the country). However, another report based on a national survey was released and it gives a less positive picture of the rate of change in smoking across the country.

The report was based on the 2008 national Health Interview Survey of almost 22,000 U.S. adults, and comparison of smoking rates back to 1998. In 2008, an estimated 20.6% (46.0 million) of U.S. adults were current cigarette smokers; of these, 79.8% (36.7 million) smoked every day, and 20.2% (9.3 million) smoked some days. Among current cigarette smokers, an estimated 45.3% (20.8 million) had stopped smoking for 1 day or more during the preceding 12 months because they were trying to quit.
Although the smoking rate has declined from 24.1% in 1998, over the 5 years for 2004 to 2008 it has hardly changed at all and the 2008 rate was actually slightly higher than 2007 (19.8%). There are marked differences in smoking rates by education and socioeconomic status. For example, only 6% of adults with a graduate degree smoke, whereas 32% of people living below the poverty level smoke. There was an increase in the proportion of women living below the poverty level who smoke, from 2007 to 2008 (from 26% to 32%). Similarly, while the proportion of ever smokers who have quit is around 80% for people with a graduate degree, it is less than 50% for those with no education beyond high school.

These stagnating smoking rates are all the more surprising considering that over the period 2004-2008, many states have increased cigarette taxes and passed laws banning smoking in public places. However, across the same time period many states have also cut tobacco control funding to the point where the state can no longer conduct a viable tobacco control program. Such funding cuts are incredibly short-sighted as they will actually result in an increase in state healthcare costs and worsen the state’s budget. The way to reduce smoking, improve health and reduce overall health spending in tough fiscal times is to (a) increase excise taxes on all tobacco products, significantly (b) pass legislation banning smoking inside all workplaces and (c) fund a viable statewide comprehensive tobacco control program that includes adequate resources to help smokers to quit, targeted at smokers with less education/income.

The report from CDC can be accessed at:
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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.