The end of a 15-year annual decline in the U.S. adult smoking rate proved disturbing to federal officials and anti-tobacco advocates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated yesterday that 20.6 percent of adults — or 46 million Americans — smoked in 2008. The data came from the 2008 National Health interview survey of almost 22,000 adults.
The peak of U.S. adult smokers was 53.5 million in 1983, or at 32.1 percent, according to U.S. government statistics.
The national rate reached a record low of 19.8 percent in 2007. Because the smoking rate was 20.9 percent in 2004, some officials and advocates worry that the rate of decline may have hit a plateau.
The percentage of men and women that smoke each increased by nearly 1 percent from 2007 to 2008, or 22.3 percent to 23.1 percent for men and from 17.4 percent to 18.3 percent for women.
The increases are signs that an ambitious goal of a 12 percent adult-smoking rate by 2010 is not likely to happen. The goal was set in November 2000 as part of the Healthy People 2010 project.
“The government’s report that adult smoking declines have stalled since 2004 is an urgent warning to elected officials that it is premature to declare victory over tobacco,” said Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Much more must be done to continue reducing tobacco use, which remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States.”
Others, however, said they believe that expanded public smoking bans, including indoors in North Carolina restaurants and bars on Jan. 2, and higher federal and state excise taxes ondiscount cigarettes will drive down the smoking rate this year and beyond.
“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,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC.
The slight increase in the smoking rate comes at a time when the tobacco industry experienced a 12.6 percent decline in cigarette shipment volume during the third quarter. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. reported an 11 percent decline to 20.6 billion cigarettes.
A separate CDC report found that 20.9 percent of North Carolinians smoked in 2008, which ranked the state 14th in smoking use among residents.
Brad Rodu, the endowed chairman of the Tobacco Harm Reduction Research University at the University of Louisville, said he is not surprised that the smoking rate is at a plateau.
“Smoking has not declined because the CDC and the American Cancer Society continue to promote only nicotine and tobacco abstinence, which has failed miserably,” Rodu said.
Officials differed on how much of an effect that the recession is having on smoking.
“In general, when people have less money, they smoke less,” Frieden said.
“Time will tell.”
The end of the annual decline in smoking was not surprising given that those who smoke the most remain those with lower education and socioeconomic status, said Dr. John Spangler, a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine whose work includes studying tobacco use.
About 31 percent of people who live at or below the poverty level smoke, as do 41.3 percent of people with a GED and 25.5 percent of people with only a high-school diploma.
“Smoking, and relapse by former smokers, is known to be associated with psychosocial stress,” Spangler said. “Unemployment and other factors related to the current recession, such as credit-card debt, might increase the stress among these populations.
“When the stress is on, people light up.”
source: The Associated Press
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