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Number of Adults Smoking Drops below 40 million for First Time in 50 Years

New Reports Highlight disparities remain for tobacco use and related diseases, including lung cancer, the #1 cancer killer

(November 10, 2016) - CHICAGO

Two new reports released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlight great progress in reducing smoking in the U.S., including a record low adult smoking rate. However, the reports also underscore disparities in smoking rates and tobacco-related cancers - highlighting that not all Americans have benefited equally by this new trend.

Published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), "Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults — United States, 2005–2015" looks at current smoking rates across the country. It reveals two landmark findings: the current smoking rate has decreased to 15.1 percent, and the current number of smokers has dropped to 36.5 million – the first time the number has been less than 40 million since modern recording began in 1965.

However, not all groups have seen the same reduction in smoking rates, and related health benefits. Groups like Native Americans/Alaska Natives (21.9 percent), gay/lesbian/bisexual adults (20.6 percent), Non-Hispanic black men (20.9 percent) and others all smoke at higher rates than the national average. Income is also a factor, with those below the poverty level smoking at a rate almost twice that of those above the poverty level (26.1 versus 13.9 percent). Insurance status was a factor as well, with the uninsured (27.4 percent) and those covered under Medicaid (27.8 percent) smoking at much higher rates than those with private insurance (11.1 percent).

"We are encouraged that adult smoking is at an all-time low, yet tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States," said American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold P. Wimmer. "The reduction in smoking rates is the result of policies that we know work – tobacco tax increases, smokefree air laws and helping more smokers quit through broader tobacco cessation coverage. We need to keep pursuing these policies because despite this success, some groups are still underserved by tobacco control efforts and are not seeing the health benefits of the general population. Too many Americans face significant barriers to better health, and we need to step up efforts to reach all parts of our communities to help smokers quit and ideally, never start."

The CDC also released its monthly Vital Signs report, which looks at both new cases and deaths from tobacco-related cancers. Chief among these is lung cancer, the leading cancer killer of both men and women in America. From 2009 to 2013, 660,000 people were diagnosed with and 343,000 died from tobacco-related cancers diagnosed every year. Overall, tobacco-related cancers have declined but they are still higher in disparate populations and the rates are falling slower in these populations.

"The smoking rate is almost a third of what it was in 1965. This is remarkable progress, and as a nation, we have seen some of the health benefits," Wimmer said. "However, as Vital Signs reports, tobacco use still accounts for an unacceptably high number of cancer diagnoses and deaths each year, especially lung cancer, which accounts for more than 126,000 deaths each year.

"We call on Congress to fully fund the CDC Office on Smoking and Health at the $210 million needed to continue its effective tobacco prevention and cessation efforts in states and among all populations," Wimmer said. "This includes continued funding for the CDC's highly successful 'Tips From Former Smokers' campaign, which has been shown to be effective prompting smokers to quit in those communities that have disproportionately higher smoking rates, such as African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and many other priority populations."

For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, tobacco use and tobacco policies, contact Allison MacMunn at the American Lung Association at [email protected] or 312-801-7628.


About the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit:

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