Adult Smoking in U.S. Fell to Record Low 14 Percent in 2017, but There Is Much Work to Do to Reduce Smoking Among All Americans

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 08, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today’s government report on adult tobacco use in the United States shows both that we know how to win the fight against tobacco – the No. 1 cause of preventable death – and that there is still much work to do to reduce smoking and other tobacco use among all Americans, especially among vulnerable groups with high rates of tobacco use.


Source: CDC

It is terrific news for our nation’s health that the adult cigarette smoking rate fell to a record-low 14 percent in 2017, down from 15.5 percent in 2016 and a remarkable decline of 67 percent since 1965 (when 42.4 percent smoked). It is also good news that the total number of Americans who smoke declined from 37.8 million in 2016 to 34.3 million in 2017. It is especially encouraging that smoking fell to 10.4 percent among young adults (ages 18-24), an age group that until recently had some of the highest smoking rates. This decline is almost certainly a result of the long-term progress in reducing youth smoking and re-emphasizes the importance of continuing to drive down youth tobacco use of all kinds. The continuing decline in cigarette smoking is a public health success story of extraordinary importance, saving millions of lives and billions in tobacco-related health care costs.

The report shows that 2.8 percent of adults were current users of electronic cigarettes in 2017, a slight decline from 3.2 percent in 2016. In contrast, there has been an explosive increase in youth use of e-cigarettes in 2018, with the FDA reporting that e-cigarette use among high school students skyrocketed by more than 75 percent to what the agency called “epidemic” levels. These data underscore the need for strong, mandatory FDA regulations that apply to all e-cigarette manufacturers, including a crackdown on marketing and sales to kids and enforcement of the legal requirement for FDA review before new products can be marketed.

Today’s report is also full of reminders that the fight against tobacco is far from over and must remain a national priority. Despite our progress, about 34 million U.S. adults still smoke cigarettes and 47 million – about 1 in 5 of all U.S. adults – still use some form of tobacco.

The report also shows once again that there are large disparities in who still smokes and uses tobacco. Groups with high rates of smoking include those with lower income and less education; American Indians/Alaska Natives; residents of the Midwest and South; lesbian/gay/bisexuals; and adults with serious psychological distress. Adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid smoke at more than double the rates of those with private health insurance or Medicare. These findings are a reminder that tobacco use is a major contributor to health disparities in our country and that we must redouble efforts to reduce tobacco use among all Americans.

To win the fight against tobacco, policy makers at all levels must fully implement the proven strategies that have driven our progress. These include significant tobacco tax increases, comprehensive smoke-free laws, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs, hard-hitting mass media campaigns, barrier-free health insurance coverage for tobacco cessation treatments, and laws raising the tobacco sale age to 21. In recent years, efforts to reduce tobacco use have been boosted by the strongest and most sustained media campaigns in the nation’s history, including the CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers campaign, Truth Initiative’s truth campaign and campaigns by the FDA.

The FDA should take several critical steps to accelerate progress: implement its plan to limit nicotine in cigarettes to minimally addictive or non-addictive levels, and apply this limit to other combustible tobacco products; require graphic health warnings covering at least half of cigarette packs (which is mandated by a 2009 law and a federal judge recently ordered the FDA to expedite); and prohibit menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products, which have been shown to promote youth use and, in the case of menthol, discourage cessation. Until the FDA acts on flavors, states and localities should continue their growing efforts to stop the sale of flavored tobacco products.

Despite our progress, tobacco use still kills more than 480,000 Americans and costs $170 billion in health care expenses each year. We must continue the fight against tobacco use until we have protected all Americans and eliminated the death and disease caused by this terrible epidemic.

The results of the 2017 National Health Interview Survey were published in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the CDC, the FDA and the National Cancer Institute.