Adults’ cigarette smoking declines more but its health toll remains huge

smoke_devilAmerican adults’ cigarette smoking keeps declining, but this “persistent and preventable health threat” takes a terrible toll on those who still light up, with 40 percent of cancer diagnoses in the country linked to tobacco use, public health experts say.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 2005 and 2015, “smoking among adults declined from 20.9 percent, or 45.1 million people, to 15.1 percent, or 36.5 million. The overall rate fell 1.7 percentage points last year alone, resulting in the lowest prevalence since the CDC began collecting data in 1965,” the Washington Post notes.

That might sound like good news. But CDC Director Tom Frieden also told reporters, “Of the 36 million current smokers, nearly half could die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses, including 6 million from cancer, unless we implement the programs that will help smokers quit.”

The CDC noted that each year between 2009 and 2013, 660,000 people were diagnosed annually with tobacco-related cancers, and 340,000 Americans died of those cancers. Although smoking is linked most closely with lung cancer, the tobacco-linked disease spreads in dozens of other areas of the body, including the throat, stomach, pancreas, and liver.

Cigarette smoking was higher among men ages 25 to 44, Native Americans, and those who were less educated and poorer, officials said. It is a bigger problem in the Midwest, among those with disabilities, and Americans covered by Medicaid or who were uninsured. Smoking was more common among lesbians, gays, and bisexuals and those with serious psychological distress.

Public health experts know one sure way to cut smoking—tax cigarettes and other tobacco products. Americans puffed less after the federal government slapped a 62-cent per pack tax in 2009, and advocates look for similar reductions in California after voters in the nation’s largest state approved a $2 per pack tariff. The money raised from the new Golden State tobacco tax will fund smoking cessation programs, and will help support Medi-Cal, the state program to help the poor with health care. Voters rejected tobacco tax hikes in Colorado, North Dakota, and Missouri.

I’m encouraged that tobacco use is on the decline, having written about what a huge health scourge smoking can be. But I’m distressed that mounting research, including a new study involving more than 4,000 Los Angeles high schoolers, indicates that the trendy use of e-cigarettes or vaping is leading more young people to cigarette smoking. I’ve written about the dangers of vaping, hookah use, and other smoking alternatives. The science is clear: Tobacco use and smoking need to be sent to the dustbin of history for our health’s sake.

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