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Long plateau ends as fewer adults smoke

| Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 8:36 p.m.

The smoking rate for adults in the country dipped last year after a seven-year stall, a new government report said. It's too early to tell why.

Smoking rates have declined steadily for decades, according to the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year's decrease — down to 18 percent — ends a smoking rate stall that hovered at 20 percent to 21 percent for more than seven years, then froze at about 19 percent in 2010 and 2011.

“We are a long way from the end game on tobacco use,” said Thomas Novotny, professor of global health at San Diego State University. “It is too early to declare victory.”

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the USA, accounting for one in five deaths and direct medical costs ranging from $50 billion to $73 billion per year, the CDC says. It causes more than 80 percent of all lung cancer deaths and coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the country, according to a CDC report.

It's unclear what caused last year's smoking rate to decline. Historically, rising taxes on tobacco products, smoking restrictions and mass media and school-based educational campaigns have helped push down the smoking rate, says Joshua Yang, a tobacco control researcher at the University of California-San Francisco.

The preliminary report, released on Tuesday, did not include data on teens. The rate was about 9 percent for adults older than 65 compared with about 20 percent for all other adults. Men are more likely to smoke than women across all age groups.

The data were collected from a survey of 35,000 U.S. adults. Adults who have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and smoke every day or some days are considered smokers.

Almost half of states require smoke-free indoor air, a well-studied deterrent to smoking, says Richard Grucza, an associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University. He said declines could be the result of stricter tobacco control policies.

Last year, the CDC started a controversial advertising campaign featuring graphic photos, stories and videos of smokers to budge the smoking rate down. The TV and radio spots triggered 200,000 additional calls by smokers about quitting, according to the CDC.

Yang acknowledges the significance of the CDC's effort but says other tobacco control efforts can't be discounted. Increases in cigarette prices reduce smoking rates significantly, especially for adolescents.

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