Smoking Declines in US, but 1 in 5 Still Light Up

skull with cigarette
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Although the number of smokers in the United States has declined slightly in recent years, still about 1 in 5 people smoke, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 2005 and 2010, adult smokers declined from 20.9 percent to 19.3 percent of the population, the report said. That means there were about 3 million fewer smokers in 2010 than would have been expected if no decline had occurred.

At this rate, about 17 percent of U.S. adults will smoke by 2020, the report predicted. That's quite a bit higher than the CDC's goal to reduce smoking prevalence to 12 percent or less by 2020.

Enhanced efforts are needed to reduce smoking nationwide, the report said. These strategies may include increasing the price of tobacco products, introducing more smoke-free laws in public places and offices and increasing restrictions on tobacco advertising.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the CDC. Every year, more than 440,000 people die from smoking-related diseases, and the nation pays an estimated $96 billion in direct medical costs.

The report used information from two surveys —  one nationally representative survey of U.S. adults, and a state-based survey.

Current smokers were defined as participants who said they had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and also said they smoked cigarettes "every day" or "some days."

In 2010, 43.5 million adults were considered smokers. Smoking prevalence was highest in Virginia (26.8 percent) and Kentucky (24.8 percent) and lowest in Utah (9.1 percent) and California (12.1 percent).

Smoking has increased in some groups. Over the study period, the proportion of daily smokers who said they smoked one to nine cigarettes per day increased from 16.4 percent to 21.8 percent.

The proportion who said they smoked 30 or more cigarettes per day dropped from 12.7 percent to 8.3 percent.

"No amount of smoking is safe, and the best option for any smoker is to quit completely," the report says.

The researchers noted their results were based on people's self-reports, and neither survey included institutionalized people or people in the military. The state-based survey did not include people who had only cellular phones.

Pass it on: Smoking in the U.S. is declining, but at a slow rate.

This story was provided by MyHealthNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner. Like us on Facebook.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.