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CDC Reports Adult Smoking Fell to Record Low 15.1 Percent in 2015 – Bold Action Needed to Finish the Job

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 24, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In historic news for the nation’s health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported today that the adult smoking rate in the United States fell to a record low 15.1 percent in 2015, down from 16.8 percent in 2014 (the 2015 rate is an initial estimate and could change slightly due to statistical adjustments). The smoking rate has fallen by 27 percent since 2009 (when 20.6 percent smoked) and by 64 percent since this survey was first conducted in 1965 (when 42.4 percent smoked).

These remarkable results are a testament to the effectiveness of evidence-based strategies that have been implemented at the federal, state and local levels, including the strong actions the Obama Administration has taken since 2009 to revitalize the nation’s fight against tobacco. There’s no question we can win this fight if we fully implement what we know works.

After stalling for several years, smoking rates began falling again after the federal cigarette tax was increased by 62 cents in 2009. Other strong steps implemented in recent years include:

  • The launch in 2012 of the first-ever federally funded mass media campaign to reduce tobacco use, the CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign that is now in its fifth year. According to the CDC, the Tips campaign has helped at least 400,000 smokers quit for good and saved at least 50,000 lives at a cost of less than $400 per year of life saved, making the campaign a public health best buy. Thanks to the Tips campaign, as well as campaigns by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Truth Initiative aimed at youth and young adults, the U.S. currently has the strongest and most sustained media campaigns to reduce tobacco use in its history.

  • The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance plans provide barrier-free coverage for proven tobacco cessation treatments and its enhancement of Medicaid coverage for such treatments.

  • The 2009 law granting the FDA authority over tobacco products, which placed restrictions on the marketing and sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

States and localities have increased tobacco taxes, enacted smoke-free air laws and, in some cases, funded effective tobacco prevention and cessation programs, including mass media campaigns. To date, 25 states, Washington, D.C., and thousands of localities have enacted comprehensive smoke-free laws that apply to all workplaces, including restaurants and bars. These laws protect nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population.

Together, these efforts have fundamentally changed public attitudes and behavior and created a social norm that discourages smoking.

Today’s CDC report did not include data on use of electronic cigarettes or examine the impact of e-cigarettes on smoking rates. The currently available data indicate that most e-cigarette users report using both e-cigarettes and cigarettes. Public health authorities in the U.S., including the CDC and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, have found there is not enough evidence to conclude whether e-cigarettes are a safe and effective smoking cessation device.

While the big decline in smoking is clearly good news, this battle is far from over. Tobacco use remains the nation’s No. 1 cause of preventable death, killing nearly half a million Americans and costing us about $170 billion a year in health care bills each year. The CDC has previously reported large disparities in smoking, with higher rates among people who live below the poverty level, those with less education, American Indians/Alaska Natives, residents of the Midwest and lesbians/gays/bisexuals. Adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid smoke at more than double the rates of those with private health insurance or Medicare.

To keep making progress, elected officials at all levels must fully implement proven strategies so they reach all populations and communities. Most immediately, Congress should reject appropriations proposals that would undermine federal efforts to further reduce tobacco use. Congress must fully fund the CDC’s tobacco prevention and cessation work, including the Tips campaign. Congress must also reject provisions approved by the House Appropriations Committee that would greatly weaken FDA oversight of cigars and e-cigarettes.

We cannot let up in the fight against tobacco because the tobacco industry never lets up. The industry spends $9.5 billion a year – more than $1 million every hour – to market its deadly and addictive products. Elected officials must be equally aggressive in working to end the tobacco epidemic for good.