Tobacco smoking rates among Americans have fallen to the lowest level on record, according to polling data, and statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Gallup’s annual poll asked, “Have you, yourself, smoked any cigarettes in the past week?”
The survey of adults, released in November, returned its lowest result in the history of the poll, which was conducted for the first time in 1944. Overall, Gallup found just 11 percent of adults are cigarette smokers. That is down from 16 percent in 2021, 20 percent a decade ago, and the all-time high of 45 percent recorded in 1954.
Reviewing the data by age group, individuals 18 to 29 show the sharpest decline, with positive responses dropping from 35 percent in 2001 to 12 percent in 2022. Meanwhile, smoking rates among those aged 50 to 64 dropped from 23 percent to 18 percent and those aged 65 and older from 14 percent to 8 percent.
The overall rate of smoking cigarettes among U.S adults age 18 and older is 12. 5 percent, according to the CDC, “the lowest prevalence since data became available starting in 1965.”
Changing Public Perceptions
The decline in smoking rates could be due to a number of factors, including federal actions severely limiting advertising and requiring warnings on tobacco products, state and local smoking bans, and high taxes.
In addition, there is continuing public education on the health risks of smoking, and an advertising campaign that portrays smoking in a negative light, funded by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco companies and state attorneys general.
That campaign has affected public perception, which has turned against smoking and tobacco, says Jeffrey Singer, M.D., a surgeon and senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Department of Health Policy Studies.
“The biggest factor has been cultural: cigarette smoking has become ‘uncool,’ largely due to an effective advertising campaign,” said Singer. “Secondarily, a public education campaign has made most people concerned about the harmful health effects of smoking.”
Education might not be the only factor influencing smoking rates, says Singer.
“I think it is multifactorial: the older age groups contain people who were more likely to have started smoking (and become addicted) before the education/public relations campaigns became very effective,” said Singer.
The popularity among the young of alternative products that are less harmful than cigarettes could also be a factor, says Singer.
“It may also be that vaping has played a role,” said Singer. “There is impressive evidence that teens who take up vaping are the ones who are more likely to have otherwise taken up tobacco smoking. And vaping is a more modern phenomenon.”
There are different views on the government’s proper role in regulating smoking, says Singer.
“I think the only legitimate role for the government to play is for public health agencies to inform people of the harmful effects of smoking and to provide a court system to adjudicate product liability cases, where people can sue tobacco companies if they do not adequately inform people of the potential dangers associated with their products,” said Singer.
It is not the role of the government to ban harmful products, such as alcohol and drugs, says Singer.
“A free people still must be allowed to make their own choices about what they want to ingest or otherwise put into their bodies,” said Singer. “And while smoking is harmful, it also brings pleasure to many people. Each person should be free to make their own risk/benefit assessment, and the government should not be allowed to make that assessment for them.”
State and municipal governments have increased taxes on cigarettes to influence behavior, but it has done little except raise more money for the government, says Michael LaFaive, senior director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
“Those who are left smoking today have such a strong preference to do so that additional taxes will have little impact on their decision to quit,” said LaFaive.
LaFaive co-authored a report in 2017, “Cross-Border Effects of Cigarette Tax Increases,” which found smokers will drive miles to buy cigarettes in low-tax states rather than give up their habit.
Kevin Stone (email@example.com) writes from Arlington, Texas
For related articles, click here.