Despite high taxes, an advertising ban, a tsunami of medical evidence, more than $200 billion in tobacco settlement money for smoking secession programs, and the pariah status of public smokers, one-fifth of U.S. adults still light up, according to new data in the CDC's 2008 National Health Interview Survey.
The survey found that 20.6% of American adults—46 million people—smoke cigarettes, essentially unchanged from the 20.9% of Americans who said they smoked in 2004. The CDC says smoking is the leading preventable cause of death, kills more than 443,000 people every year, and costs the nation $96 billion annually in healthcare costs. The discouraging results of the survey were released as the American Cancer Society prepares to hold its annual Great American Smokeout on Thursday.
"Today tobacco will kill more than 1,000 people, but we can reduce smoking rates," said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, in a media release announcing the findings. "We must protect people from second-hand smoke, increase the price of tobacco, and support aggressive anti-tobacco campaigns that will reduce smoking and save lives. If every state had smoking rates similar to places which have implemented effective programs, there would be at least 10 million fewer smokers in the U.S., and millions of heart attacks, cancers, strokes, and deaths would be prevented."
According to the study, the people hardest hit by the tobacco epidemic are those among vulnerable populations, including people with lower levels of education. In 2008, 41.3% of people with a general education development certificate smoked cigarettes, compared to 5.7% of people with a graduate degree.
Another study in last week's CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reports that smoking prevalence was highest in West Virginia (26.6%), Indiana (26.1%), and Kentucky (25.3%), and lowest in Utah (9.2%), California (14%), and New Jersey (14.8%).
CDC also reported significant variation among 11 states in the proportion of adults protected by smoke-free workplace policies and the proportion of adults who protect themselves and their families from secondhand smoke in their homes. Smoke-free laws in public places encourage people to adopt smoke-free policies in their homes, according to CDC.