Fewer U.S. adults are lighting up these days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After years of smoking rates remaining mostly unchanged, the CDC reports a definitive decrease in the past year. For more than seven years, smoking rates remained around 20% and then dipped to 19% in 2010, remaining the same for 2011. In 2012, the smoking rate dropped to 18%, pleasantly surprising many health workers. Now many are speculating over what caused the decline. Why are American adults giving up cigarettes?
According to Joshua Yang, tobacco control researcher at the University of California-San Francisco, there are three potential factors that could have caused this change. Historically, smoking rates declined with rising tobacco taxes, new smoking restrictions, and educational campaigns.
The CDC released the new preliminary report on Tuesday, but the data collected only looked at adult smokers and did not take teenage tobacco users into consideration. Age does seem to be an important factor in smoking rates and the report showed that only 9% of adults over age 65 identified themselves as smokers. Alternately, the rate was at 20% for other age groups. Smokers were predominantly male in all age ranges.
Data for the new study was collected from a survey given to 35,000 American adults. For a participant to be considered a smoker, they must have smoked more than 100 cigarettes during their lifetime and continue to currently smoke either occasionally or on a daily basis.
Richard Grucza, associate professor of psychiatry from Washington University credits new smoking restrictions to the declining rates. Nearly half of U.S. states ban indoor smoking in public. These stricter policies could be enough to cause many smokers to give up the habit out of sheer inconvenience.
Another factor could be the CDC’s most recent advertising campaigns. In 2012, the CDC began broadcasting some graphic stories, videos, and photos of smokers. These ads were dramatic and disturbing to many smokers. The CDC reports than 200,000 smokers called in for assistance with tobacco cessation after viewing the new graphic advertisements.
Of course, the steady hike in tobacco prices had an impact on smokers too. The CDC reports that increased cigarette prices have the biggest effect on young smokers. They state that increasing cigarette prices by just 10% can cause a 4% smoking decline among young people.
Adolescents are also impacted by stricter age limits for tobacco use. Washington University printed a study in the American Journal of Public Health on June 13 that showed the states with the most restrictive age limits on tobacco purchases have the lowest smoking rates among adults, particularly women. Perhaps the overall decline in tobacco use in related to stricter regulations against teenagers buying cigarettes.
Another potential cause for the declining smoking rate could be linked to the Hollywood scene. While people have always been accustomed to seeing their favorite stars smoking on TV or in movies, this is happening less and less. Ever since the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement that banned tobacco companies from advertising in movies or television, there has been a steady decline of smoking in movies.
Interestingly, Dartmouth Medical School’s cancer control program reports, “There is a strong correlation over time between how much smoking there is in movies and adult consumption of tobacco.” So it is possible that with less actors lighting up on the big screen, fewer Americans are lighting up when they leave the theater.
It is also possible that smoking rates are going down because more people are making an educated choice to use electronic cigarettes instead of tobacco products. As tobacco-free e-cigarettes grow in popularity and the sales reach new heights every year, this leaves an undeniable void in the smoking world.
Despite the declining rates of tobacco use, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and illness in the United States. One in five deaths are directly related to smoking and tobacco costs anywhere from $50 billion to $73 billion in medical costs each year.
Thomas Novotny, professor of global health at San Diego State University urged people to view the new report with caution. “We are a long way from the end game on tobacco use,” he said. “It is too early to declare victory. It is encouraging to see that the prevalence rate has finally edged downwards for adults after lingering above 20% for so long. Nevertheless, we still have 45 million or so smokers in the U.S. and so we still have an enormous challenge to try to reduce this number further.”
Only time will reveal whether the declining rates among smokers will continue. As a variety of factors continue to change the tobacco industry, each smoker will be faced with the personal decision of whether to continue smoking or give up tobacco once and for all.