The country's smoking rate fell to 18.1% in 2012 from 20.9% in 2005, the CDC reported in its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (PDF).
The percentage of those who quit increased during that time to 55% from 50.7%. Smoking remained higher among men (20.5%) in 2012 than women (15%).
The most significant reduction was among young adults. Smoking rates among those ages 18 to 24 fell to 17% from 24% over that seven-year period. The study points out, however, that such a steep drop could be attributed in part to an increase in use of other tobacco products, such as flavored cigars and electronic cigarettes.
“In general it's good news that we're making progress,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, senior medical consultant to the American Lung Association.
In spite of the progress, the data suggests that the smoking rate has begun to level off. The rate dropped from nearly 25% in 1999 to about 21% in 2004, according to CDC data released last June (PDF).
Smoking in the U.S. and in other industrialized countries has been on the decline for decades. Ever since the release of the first surgeon general's report in 1964 that linked smoking to cancer, governments have implemented control measures to reduce tobacco use, such as bans on smoking in public places indoors and the institution of taxes on cigarettes. In spite of those efforts, smoking remains one of the most preventable causes of death in the U.S., responsible for more than 440,000 deaths a year.
Edelman said nothing in the evidence suggested the rate could not come down further despite a slowdown in the progress. “There is nothing in this report that suggests that we've reached an irreducible minimum and we ought to let up on our efforts,” he said. “Quite the contrary, this report to me says we really ought to keep trying and enhance our efforts.”
One of the more encouraging trends in the study is that the average number of cigarettes smokers reported smoking each day is declining. The number of people who reported smoking 30 or more cigarettes a day fell to 7% in 2012 from 12% in 2005.
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