CDC Reports: U.S. Has Cut Number of Smokers by 8.6 Million since 2005, But Smoking Is Still Huge Problem and Causes 30 Percent of Cancer Deaths

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 10, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New reports issued today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscore the enormous progress the United States has made in reducing smoking, but also show that tobacco use is still a huge problem that drives some of the biggest health challenges facing our country, including cancer and health disparities.

The good news is that the U.S. has cut the adult smoking rate by 28 percent in the past decade, from 20.9 percent in 2005 to a record-low 15.1 percent in 2015. This means there are 8.6 million fewer smokers in the U.S. (a drop from 45.1 million in 2005 to 36.5 million in 2015). The smoking rate has fallen by 64 percent since the CDC’s first survey in 1965, when 42.4 percent smoked. This is a remarkable public health success story that shows we can win the fight against tobacco by fully implementing the proven solutions that have driven this progress.

However, tobacco use continues to take a tremendous toll on our nation’s health. The CDC reports that smoking causes three in ten cancer deaths and tobacco use is linked to 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. Smoking causes more than a dozen forms of cancer throughout the body. Of the 36.5 million Americans who still smoke, about half will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease, including six million from cancer, unless we do more to help them quit.

The report also shows that smoking declines have had a big role in reducing cancer deaths since 1990, when cancer deaths peaked among males. Since 1990, about 1.3 million tobacco-related cancer deaths have been prevented. About 60 percent of the decrease in all cancer deaths among men and 40 percent of the decrease among women are due to declines in tobacco-related cancers.

The facts couldn’t be clearer: We cannot win the fight against cancer without winning the fight against tobacco. The CDC’s findings show why accelerated implementation of proven strategies to reduce tobacco use must be central components of the Cancer Moonshot and other efforts to fight cancer.

The CDC’s reports also show that tobacco use is a major contributor to health disparities in our country. Smoking rates are highest among people who live below the poverty level, those with less education, American Indians/Alaska Natives, residents of the Midwest, lesbians/gays/bisexuals, and those who are uninsured or on Medicaid.

Our progress in reducing smoking is no accident. It stems directly from implementing proven strategies to reduce tobacco use. Smoking declines has accelerated since 2009 as a result of a stepped-up national effort, including:

  • A 62-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax in 2009.

  • Enactment of the landmark 2009 law granting the FDA authority over tobacco products.

  • Enhancing coverage for tobacco cessation treatments under the Affordable Care Act.

  • Launch of the first federally-funded mass media campaign to reduce tobacco use, the CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign now in its fifth year. According to the CDC, the Tips campaign has helped at least 400,000 smokers quit 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 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 challenge now is to build on this progress and reject tobacco industry efforts to reverse it. Most immediately, Congress must reject proposals included in House appropriations bills that would cut funding for the CDC’s tobacco control programs by more than half (from $210 million to $100 million) and greatly weaken FDA authority over tobacco products. The CDC funding cut would make it virtually impossible to continue the Tips campaign. The two FDA proposals would dramatically weaken FDA oversight of electronic cigarettes and cigars, products that are popular with kids and threaten to undermine overall progress in reducing tobacco use.

States and localities must do their part by increasing tobacco taxes, enacting smoke-free air laws, increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 and funding effective tobacco prevention and cessation programs. However, state efforts have slowed in recent years. California took a big step forward this week when voters approved a $2 per pack tobacco tax increase and boosted funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

Despite our progress, tobacco is still the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States, killing nearly half a million people and costing about $170 billion in health care bills each year.  Today’s CDC reports are timely reminders of how much is achievable and how much is at stake in the fight against tobacco. The progress of recent years should motivate elected leaders at all levels to redouble efforts to win this fight once and for all.