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Smoking Progress Flatlines in U.S. as 21% of Adults Still Puff

Smoking Progress Flatlines in U.S.
About 21 percent of adults identified themselves as smokers in 2009 -- the latest year of data -- the same level as in 2005, said a report released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) -- A decades-long decline in smoking rates leveled off in 2005 and has changed little ever since, according to a government study that calls for more funding for anti-smoking programs.

About 21 percent of adults identified themselves as smokers in 2009 -- the latest year of data -- the same level as in 2005, said the report released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The estimates were determined from interviews and telephone surveys of tens of thousands of adults.

Smoking rates fell by about 50% from 1965 to 2005 as more Americans learned about the dangers of smoking and as cigarette taxes made addiction less affordable, according to the CDC. The average cigarette tax last year rose to about $2.35 a pack, the highest price ever. Smoking declines may come to an end unless more of the tax revenue is spent on education, the agency said.

“Progress is possible,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, in a statement. “Strong state laws that protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, higher cigarette prices, aggressive ad campaigns that show the impact of smoking, and well-funded tobacco control programs decrease the number of adult smokers and save lives.”

Cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., according to the CDC. Each year about 443,000 people die from smoking or from illness related to secondhand smoke.

Overhaul Helps

The U.S. health-care overhaul is expected to reduce the number of smokers by increasing availability of services to help people quit, the report said. Insurers will add as many as 32 million customers through the health plan, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Smoking varies state by state, according to the CDC. The lowest rates are in the West, led by Utah and California, where fewer than 13 percent of adults smoke. The highest rates are in Kentucky and West Virginia, where more than a quarter of adults use cigarettes. Men are more likely to smoke, as are the poor and less educated, according to the surveys.

California, which has the longest-running anti-smoking program, has seen lung cancer cases drop four times faster than the national average. If every state funded anti-smoking programs at recommended levels, about 5 million fewer people would continue to smoke, the CDC said.

Each $1-a-pack tax increase brings in about $9.1 billion in annual tax revenue, according to a CDC report in April. A dollar increase, over time, also prevents about 1 million smoking-related deaths and stops 2.3 million children from becoming smokers, the CDC said. None of the 15 states that increased taxes last year mandated that the money go to smoking prevention programs, which would help curb tobacco use, the CDC said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Randall in New York at trandall6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale in New York at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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