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Smoking rates in America are now the lowest they’ve been in more than 50 years

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Smoking in America is now at its lowest point in more than 50 years.

That's according to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that the percentage of adults who smoke cigarettes has continued to decline. As you can see in the chart below, 21 percent of Americans smoked regularly in 2005 (about 45 million people), and in 2014 that number was down to 17 percent (about 40 million people):

Percentage of American adults who were current cigarette smokers, overall and by sex, 2005 to 2014.
CDC

It's a remarkable shift. In 1964, when the surgeon general first began a public health campaign on cigarettes, nearly half of the adult population smoked.

But thanks to tobacco taxes, smoking bans, and public awareness campaigns, cigarette use has been on a downward trajectory for decades.

This major public health success story hasn't been a total victory, either. Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US, contributing to some 480,000 early deaths and more than $300 billion in health care expenditures and productivity losses every year. The push to eradicate smoking has been especially slow going among poorer Americans.

Smoking is still most prevalent among poorer Americans

Percentage of American adults who were current cigarette smokers, by health insurance status and age group, in 2014.
CDC

Generally speaking, poorer Americans smoke at higher rates than wealthier Americans. The CDC shows this by looking at the relationship between insurance coverage and cigarette use.

People insured by Medicaid or those who are uninsured tend to be poorer, on average. In 2014, 29.1 percent of Medicaid recipients and 27.9 percent of the uninsured smoked. By contrast, only 12.9 percent of those with private insurance smoked.

Relatedly, education also makes a difference: Of adults with a graduate degree, only about 5 percent smoke. Meanwhile, about 25 percent of those who haven't graduated high school smoke.

In an effort to address some of these gaps, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development just announced that it will ban smoking in public housing across the country. Read more about that here.

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