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Great news: fewer Americans are smoking than ever before

Scott Barbour/Getty Images
  1. The smoking rate fell from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 17.8 percent in 2013.
  2. That's the lowest percentage since the Centers for Disease Control began surveying Americans on their smoking habits in 1965 — when more than 40 percent of American adults smoked.
  3. Cigarette smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 480,000 Americans annually.

Fewer Americans are smoking than ever before

The number of adult Americans smoking cigarettes fell from 45.1 million in 2005 to 42.1 million in 2013 — the lowest number that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded since it began surveying Americans on their smoking habits in 1965.

Even among those who do smoke, the Centers for Disease Control found reason for optimism. The percent of smokers who said they smoked daily declined from 80.8 percent in 2005 to 76.9 percent in 2013. And among daily smokers, the average number of cigarettes smoked daily dropped from 16.7 to 14.2.

Declines in smoking are one of public health's proudest success stories

smoking

(Gallup)

Smoking rates have fallen rapidly since the mid-1960s, when the surgeon general first warned of the harms that nicotine poses. The federal government added warning labels to cigarette packages, and then began to ban television ads for tobacco in 1969. In the 1970s, states began to ban smoking in public places. Indoor smoking bans followed in the 1990s.

At the same time, cigarette prices rose rapidly as states added excise taxes. The inflation-adjusted price for a pack of cigarettes grew from $1.80 in 1955 to $4.15 in 2008.

Some public health efforts, like those that try and reduce obesity or increase exercise, can take years or decades to work. But these policy efforts to tamp down on smoking worked quickly: the American smoking rate fell by half between 1955 and 2008, from 43 percent to 20 percent.

Even with all the gains, smoking is still a huge public health risk

There are still more than 42 million Americans who smoke, and rates tend to be especially high among minority and low-income populations.

"Cigarette smoking remains especially high among certain groups, most notably those below the poverty level, those who have less education, Americans of multiple race, American Indians/Alaska Natives, males, those who live in the South or Midwest, those who have a disability or limitation, and those who are lesbian/gay/bisexual," the CDC finds.

Even as rates drop, smoking still remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Smokers die, on average, 10 years earlier than non-smokers. And the federal government estimates that, for every one smoking death, there are 30 more smokers suffering from a related disease, like emphysema or lung cancer.

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