Smoking Rates at an All-Time Low, But More Work Needs to be Done

NCHSThe smoking rate among U.S. adults has dropped again, a trend that many experts attribute to bold public policies like smoke-free air laws and cigarette taxes (NYC has the highest), as well as hard-hitting media campaigns.

Eighteen percent of American adults smoked cigarettes in 2012, according to a report released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics, down from 18.9 percent the previous year. From 2009 to 2012, the smoking rate dropped to 18 percent from 20.6 percent, the first statistically significant change over multiple years since the period spanning 1997 to 2005, when the rate fell to 20.9 percent from 24.7 percent.  The cigarette smoking rate among young people has been declining slowly but steadily over the last decade, and the latest estimates were 15.8 percent for high school students and 4.3 percent for middle school students.

New York City’s aggressive campaign has resulted in smoking rates decreasing from 22 percent in 2002 to 14.8 percent. The smoking rate among teenagers plummeted as well, with the proportion of public high school students who smoke dropping from 19 percent to 8.5 percent — still too high, but far below the national youth numbers which showed a drop from 29 percent in 2001 to 20 percent in 2010. For New York City, that means there are 450,000 fewer smokers than there were 10 years ago.

Dr. Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the university’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, believes that getting the U.S. smoking rate below 20 percent is significant. Glantz said, “This data shows that the whole premise that there is this hard-core group, where no matter what you do, you can’t get them to quit, is just not true.”

In our City, we’re determined to focus our efforts on protecting our most vulnerable populations – our youth, communities of color, and low-income New Yorkers – who are frequent targets of Big Tobacco.  We will continue to support efforts to reduce youth exposure to tobacco marketing and insist that Big Tobacco stop targeting these communities.

The proposed bills that are being considered by City Council are designed to protect our youth and deter them from lighting up.  The proposed tobacco product display ban will keep cigarettes out of sight for children and reduce impulse buys for those trying to quit.  Another bill will establish a price floor for cigarettes and maintain higher prices, a major deterrent for youth. Higher fines for selling illegal, smuggled cigarettes and stronger enforcement will work to reduce smuggling and shrink the black market.  This will give honest, law-abiding tobacco retailers a fighting chance. And finally, the third bill will raise the minimum sale age to 21.

If passed, the three bills will help to make smoking less socially acceptable for everyone and make it easier for smokers to quit. New York City will become the first in the nation to prohibit tobacco displays in stores and raise the minimum sale age to 21.  It’s time for our City to show the rest of the country how to reduce smoking rates even further.