Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How Many Americans Smoke – 2014

In June, the Centers for Disease Control released data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey, an annual report which has been used for half a century by the CDC to generate national smoking prevalence estimates.  The agency generally publicizes cherry-picked data on surveys to emphasize its mission to eradicate tobacco (e-cigarette use by teens, here), but it hasn’t commented on smoking rates.  In this column, I offer smoking prevalence estimates from the 2014 NHIS.

The chart below shows the prevalence of current smoking among adults in 2005, 2010 and 2014. The CDC had previously reported on smoking trends from 2005 to 2010 (here), so we can compare that period with 2010 to 2014, during which time e-cigarettes gained traction in the U.S. 

Among men, smoking declined about 10% from 2005 to 2010, and about 12.5% during the latter four years (the diagonal bars in the chart).  The earlier decline among women was modest (4.4%), but the drop from 2010 to 2014 was an impressive 14.5%. 

The prevalence of former smoking was relatively stable for men and women in all years, which belies the notion that e-cigarettes created a surge in quitting.  The declines in current smoking are likely a reflection of the increasing percentage of Americans who have never smoked and the long decline in teenage smoking (here and here).   

In summary, in 2014 the number of Americans who smoke dropped below 40 million for the first time in the 50 years that the NHIS has provided smoking statistics.  The number of former smokers in 2014 was 52.2 million.

These numbers do not support the claim of tobacco prohibitionists that e-cigarettes are “re-normalizing” smoking.  Rather, the decline in smoking continues.

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