Here’s some good news: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics reported this week that the percentage of the adult population that smokes cigarettes has reached its lowest level since the government began keeping track of that activity.
The CDC report concluded that, in 2017, 13.9 percent of the adult population in the United States smoked cigarettes. That number is down from 15.5 percent in 2016, and has been steadily declining over the years. Back in the 1960s, more than 40 percent of American adults smoked. Ask anyone who was around during the ’60s, and you’ll hear stories that give you an idea about just how dramatically things have changed since then. When UJ and I went with our grandparents to University of Akron Zips basketball games back in those days, for example, people could smoke in the hallways before entering the seating area. At halftime when you walked through the hallway to get popcorn or a hot dog, you walked through a thick, gag-inducing wall of smoke emitted by throngs of smokers. Now — unless you’re in a Las Vegas casino — you almost never encounter even a whiff of smoke in a public place.
Why are the numbers of smokers falling? Some attribute it to aggressive ad campaigns against smoking and some attribute it to changes in general social mores; others think that a positive feedback loop may have occurred, where the decline in the number of smokers means people see fewer smokers and aren’t tempted to start smoking themselves in the first place. There’s also another reason for the decline: call it coincidence, but people who are smokers often seem to have fatal health problems, like the cancers that claimed three of the heavy smokers in my family.
While the overall trends are encouraging, there’s still work to be done. Even though adult smokers now number less than 14 percent of the population, that still amounts to millions of people who are in the grip of a very bad habit. And the statistics show a real disparity in the percentage of smokers by location, with city dwellers much less likely to smoke than residents of rural areas. We need to continue to work on getting current smokers to quit, and convincing potential smokers to never pick up one of those coffin nails in the first place.