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CDC Reports Adult Smoking Rates Is Declining Slowly – Elected Leaders Must Act to Accelerate Progress and Save More Lives

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 06, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC (September 6, 2011) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today that the adult smoking rate in the United States has resumed a slow decline, falling to 19.3 percent in 2010 from 20.6 percent in 2009 and 20.9 percent in 2005.

It is good news for the nation's health that the adult smoking rate is declining again after stalling for several years and in fact has fallen to the lowest level on record. As the CDC reported, there were three million fewer U.S. smokers in 2010 as a result of the declines since 2005. That means fewer Americans will become sick and die because of tobacco.

However, the slow pace of progress is nothing to cheer, and the latest survey once again underscores the need for elected officials at all levels to more aggressively implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use. Unfortunately, as the CDC report points out, at the current rate of progress, the U.S. adult smoking rate will fall to about 17 percent in 2020, far short of the national goal of reducing smoking to 12 percent or less by 2020. We need leadership, action and resources from all levels of government to accelerate progress:

  • At the federal level, the FDA must effectively exercise its new authority to regulate tobacco products and marketing, especially as tobacco companies challenge and seek to undermine key provisions such as the new graphic cigarette pack warnings. In addition, the Administration and Congress should fund and implement the national Tobacco Control Strategy Action Plan announced last year by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, including a national media campaign to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit.
  • The states must step up their efforts to increase tobacco taxes, enact smoke-free laws and fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs. They must stand up to the tobacco industry's redoubled attempts not only to defeat new measures, but to roll back those already in place. It is especially critical that states reverse budget cuts that have decimated tobacco prevention and cessation programs in recent years, cutting total funding by more than a third.

We cannot become complacent or declare premature victory when nearly one in five U.S. adults still smokes and tobacco remains the nation's number one cause of preventable death, killing more than 400,000 Americans and costing the nation nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year.

There is no question that we know how to win the fight against tobacco, as evidenced by the fact that the U.S. has reduced adult smoking by more than half since the 1960s and high school smoking by nearly half since 1997 (from 36.4 percent in 1997 to 19.5 percent in 2009).

The latest decline in adult smoking is further evidence that we know what to do. It follows a 61-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax in 2009, as well as enactment of cigarette tax increases and smoke-free laws in several states. These actions have had an even bigger impact on cigarette sales, contributing to a 13 percent decline from 2008 to 2010. These sales declines are reflected in the CDC's report that those who still smoke are smoking less and could be a precursor to further declines in the smoking rate, especially if proven tobacco control measures are implemented and smokers get the help they need to quit. As the CDC noted, there is no safe level of smoking, and smokers should quit completely to protect their health.

There is also no question that the nation can drive smoking rates far lower, as shown by states and cities that have implemented comprehensive, well-funded and sustained strategies. It is telling that the ten states with the lowest smoking rates all have comprehensive smoke-free laws, and have an average tobacco tax of $2.16. In contrast, just one of the states with the ten highest rates is smoke-free, and the average tax in these states is 78 cents. Combining these policies with comprehensive tobacco prevention programs is especially effective. New York City has reduced adult smoking to 15.8 percent and high school smoking to just 8.4 percent with an aggressive strategy that includes the nation's highest cigarette tax, a strong smoke-free law, hard-hitting media campaigns and programs to help smokers quit. California, which pioneered similar strategies, recently announced that it has reduced adult smoking to just 11.9 percent.

If the national rate was as low as California, there would be 20 million fewer adult smokers. And that would mean 5.4 million fewer deaths from smoking and $190 billion in long-term health care cost savings, including $34 billion in Medicaid cost savings. It is clearly in the nation’s health and financial interest to step up the fight against tobacco.

We know how to win the fight against tobacco. What's needed is the political will to do so.

The CDC report can be found at