A very nice article in the Washington Post this week about “who stills smokes today.”
First of all, the good news. According to the Post article, which got its numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, the smoking rate in the U.S. has dropped to 16.8 percent. That’s the lowest I’ve ever seen. It was only about four years ago when the smoking rate finally dropped dropped below 20 percent (officially 2010). When I began blogging about tobacco about 10 years ago, the smoking rate was about 22 percent. The smoking rate dropped below 25 percent for good in 1995 and dropped below 30 percent in 1987 . .. see how slowly the smoking rate was dropping compared to the past few years?
This is fantastic news. I’m guessing one major factor for the escalating drop in the smoking rate is the rising popularity of e-cigs. E-cigs are fine for people trying to quit cigarettes, in my opinion, but it also sucks that so many teenagers are taking up e-cigs rather than cigarettes. Nicotine addiction is nicotine addiction … and it’s never a a good thing.
I made my own smoking chart (I rule … I can use Microsoft Works!) to further parse these numbers year-by-year. Click on it to blow it up. Notice the dramatic drop-off in the smoking rate since 2009. That’s e-cigs and higher cigarette taxes, more smoking bans and a lot less smoking in Hollywood movies all working together to drive down the smoking rate. Notice how the smoking rate flat-lined between 2004 and 2009 (In fact, the smoking rate dropped just 0.3 of a percent in those five years — from 20.9 percent to 20.6 percent.) It was a very, very frustrating time. The tobacco industry was successfully fighting anti-tobacco efforts by spending billions on advertising and marketing. After many, many battles in many state Legislatures, cigarette taxes went up and more states passed smoking bans and smoking was removed from movies marketed to kids — hence, smoking rates started declining.
Also notice a fairly steep drop in the smoking rate between 1999 and 2004 (from 23.5 percent to 20.9 percent.). I believe that’s a direct result of the notorious 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. While this agreement was roundly and justifiably criticized, in the long run, it did a lot of good, such as banning tobacco marketing icons like Joe Camel and banning product placement in Hollywood movies (shockingly, smoking still kept showing up in kids’ movies even after the practise of tobacco product placement was banned.)
Here’s a bunch of other interesting tidbits in the WashPo article. This is another issue I’ve touched but a lot of people don’t think about when it comes to smoking trends. Not only are fewer people smoking today, but those who do smoke smoke less. This is mostly because of smoking bans in most workplaces and more rental residential units not allowing smoking. And generally because smokers have become a lot more savvy about not lighting up around kids and other nonsmokers.
In 2005, 12.7 percent of smokers smoke over 30 cigarettes a day (a pack and a half). Today, that number is down to 6.9 percent of smokers. Those numbers are mind-blowing to me considering that my dad smoked at least 80 cigarettes (four packs) a day and my mom many years ago probably smoked at least 40 cigarettes a day. Between the two of them — roughly six packs a day. Barely anyone smokes even three packs a day anymore. There’s simply not many places left where you can light up cigarettes that constantly.
Another tend touched on by the WashPo article that I was already aware of (but I’m glad the Post is writing about it) … the absolute direct correlation between smoking and education. The smoking rate for people with GEDs is 43 percent. For people with a high school degree — 21.7 percent. College degree, it’s 7.9 percent and for people with post-grad degrees, 5.4 percent.
The ethnic group with the lowest smoking rate is Asians, while American Indians have the highest smoking rate at 29.2 percent. (Interestingly, Hispanics and blacks both have a lower smoking rate than whites.) Yikes, I didn’t realize that Native smoking rate was so high. That is a real problem.
Here is something that has changed dramatically from 10 years ago — and this is mostly due to e-cigs, I believe. Teens and young adults have for many years now had the highest smoking rate of any age group. No longer. The smoking rate for people aged 18-24 is now 16.7 percent. The smoking rate for people aged 25-44 is 20 percent; age 45-64 is 18 percent and age 65-over is 8.5 percent (because by that age, many smokers are facing tobacco-related illnesses and are forced to quit.). I like the fact that the smoking rate for teens and young adults is so low, but I wish it was for a better reason than more young people simply taking up e-cigs instead (and I give the WashPo credit for talking about the effect of e-cigs on the young adult smoking rate.)