Good News: Smoking Rates Have Declined Rapidly in the U.S.

smoking decline

The federal government said on November 10th that cigarette smoking among American adults is still dropping dramatically. [1]

But the good news comes with 1 major caveat: smoking still causes 40% of all cancer diagnoses in the United States. Not just lung cancer, either. That percentage encompasses a dozen other parts of the body, including the throat, stomach, pancreas, and liver.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director Tom Frieden said the latest data shows how tobacco use remains “a persistent and preventable health threat.” There are still 36 million smokers in the U.S., and Frieden said that “nearly half could die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses, including 6 million from cancer, unless we implement the programs that will help smokers quit.”

From 2009-2013, approximately 660,000 people were diagnosed with cancer each year, CDC data shows. About 340,000 people died of those cancers.

Read: Quit Smoking Tips that go Beyond the Patch, Pill, or Phone Support

However, in a separate report, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that the U.S. has made great strides in reducing smoking over the past decade. From 2005 to 2015, smoking among adults declined from 20.9% to, or 45.1 million, to 15.1%, or 36.5 million. In the last year alone, the overall smoking rate fell 1.7 percentage points, resulting in the lowest prevalence since the CDC began collecting data in 1965.

Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said:

“The smoking rate is almost 1/3 of what it was in 1965. This is remarkable progress, and as a nation, we have seen some of the health benefits. However, tobacco use still accounts for an unacceptably high number of cancer diagnoses and deaths each year, especially lung cancer, which accounts for more than 126,000 deaths each year.” [2]

Source: The Washington Post

Read: Smoking can Permanently Damage DNA – but Quitting can Heal Some Wounds

There are large disparities among different groups, according to Frieden. More men than women smoking, especially African-American men, as well as among those who report experiencing psychological stress. People who did not graduate from high school and poor individuals also have higher smoking rates. [1]

Among Americans, the Northeast has the highest prevalence of smokers (202 per 100,000), and the West had the lowest (170 per 100,000). [2]

Ernest Hawk, vice president for cancer prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said:

“The good news is that progress is being made against smoking. The bad news is that we are leaving people behind.” [1]

The CDC gives credit for the decline in smoking to programs focusing on reducing cancer risk, detecting cancer early, improving cancer treatments, improving the survivability of cancer, improving cancer survivors’ quality of life, and better assisting communities affected by cancer. [2]

Frieden said:

“Funding for these programs will yield a return on investment. States that invest in these initiatives will reduce tobacco use that will result in fewer people with cancer, fewer deaths and reduced health care costs. It has been estimated that the annual cost of caring for an ex-smoker is $1,000 less than the annual cost of caring for a smoker.”


[1] The Washington Post

[2] HealthDay

The Washington Post