CDC says smoking rates lowest ever

Margarita Cambest
  • Pennsylvania's smoking rate was 18.1 percent in 2015 and 19.9 in 2014.
  • Rates in the commonwealth were higher than other states in the Northeast.

Despite years of declining smoking rates in the U.S., where you live and where you come from still has a lot to do with how likely you are to become a smoker.

According to a November report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking rates nationally have not only dropped, but they’ve fallen to their lowest point ever at 15.1 percent nationwide. After ticking up a bit between 2012 and 2013, the rate of adults who reported smoking a cigarette most days continued a decadeslong trend down again between 2014 and 2015.

“I’m very excited to hear smoking rates are going down,” said Dr. Matthew Howie, a physician at WellSpan Health and medical director of the York City Bureau of Health. “It’s very welcome on our front.”

The Northeast region, which includes Pennsylvania according to the CDC, had the second-lowest smoking rate in the country at 13.5 percent in 2015, behind the West's 12.4 percent. That’s down from 19.2 percent in 2005. Rates were highest in the Midwest at 18.7 percent.

In this photo taken Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, two men smoke outside at Seattle Central College in Seattle. A proposal in the Washington Legislature seeks to raise the smoking age to 21. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

However, more Pennsylvanians are smoking than others in the Northeast, with the commonwealth at 18.1 percent in 2015 and 19.9 in 2014. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings, that rate is similar in York County.

Groups: Smoking rates dropped across education levels, regions,  incomes and ethnicities, but some groups fared better than others.

The CDC data shows Hispanic and Asian adults reported the lowest smoking rates at 10.1 percent and 7 percent, respectively in 2015. Rates were highest for American Indian and Alaskan native adults at 21.9 percent in 2015, although they dropped from 32 percent in 2005.

White and black adults showed similar decreases in smoking rates. Both groups dropped from just over 21 percent in 2005 to under 17 percent in 2015.

We’re not sure why that additional drop occurred, but it was welcome news,” Howie said.

Men, young adults, members of the LGBTQ community and those with lower education levels or living in poverty were also more likely to be smokers.

Howie said it’s important to bring smoking rates down further because smoking is linked to so many other medical conditions.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. and kills more than 480,000 people each year, according to the CDC. With decreases in smoking should come decreases in 40 different types of cancer, including lung cancer,  as well as heart disease and stroke.

You reduce that one element, and you see an improvement on all of those fronts,” Howie said.

The CDC points to increased public health campaigns for bringing down the smoking rate, but additional smoke-free laws, increased funding for tobacco-control programs and an increase in tobacco prices could decrease rates even more.

Howie said bringing smoking rates down further will take targeted efforts aimed at the most vulnerable communities.