- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

Federal health officials say the smoking rate among U.S. adults has stalled at 21 percent during the past two years, flattening an eight-year decline.

In a report released yesterday, researchers for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the plateaus in smoking prevalence of 2004 and 2005 “mirror a lack of decline in smoking among adolescents since 2002.”

“Preliminary data for 2006 appears to be consistent with those of 2004 and 2005,” Terry Pechacek, associate director of science in the CDC’s Office of Smoking and Health and an author of the report, said yesterday.

He blames factors such as “smaller annual increases in the retail price of cigarettes” and a nearly 27 percent cut in funding for comprehensive state tobacco control and prevention programs since 2002 for contributing to the lack of progress in cutting smoking.

The report, published in the current issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), put the total number of current American cigarette smokers at 45.1 million. Of these, 81 percent smoke every day and 19 percent smoke some days, according to data obtained from the 2005 National Health Interview Survey, which polled nearly 31,500 people ages 18 and older.

“The rate of decrease in cigarette smoking among adults is not sufficient to meet the [U.S. government’s] 2010 objective of 12 percent, and rates of improvement are also not sufficient to meet the objectives for cigar smoking, use of smokeless tobacco, and attempts at smoking cessation,” the authors concluded.

The 12 percent rate of smokers is a goal of a federal initiative called Healthy People 2010.

Meanwhile, “smoking remains the most preventable cause of premature death” in the United States today, killing some 400,000 people annually, Mr. Pechacek said.

The monitoring of U.S. smoking prevalence began in 1965, one year after Dr. Luther Terry, then-U.S. surgeon general, first linked smoking to lung cancer. In 1966, data show, 42.6 percent of U.S. adults — or more than half of all men and a third of all women — said they were current smokers.

Today, smoking is still higher among men (23.9 percent) than women (18.1 percent). Prevalence is highest among American Indians and Alaskan Natives (32 percent), followed by non-Hispanic whites (21.9 percent) and non-Hispanic blacks (21.5 percent). Asians (13.3 percent) and Hispanics (16.2 percent) had the lowest rates, the report found.

Between late 1997 and 2003, Mr. Pechacek said cigarette prices doubled, which contributed to continued dips in smoking prevalence. “But since 2003, prices have gone up very slowly; only by about 10 percent over the past couple of years,” he said.

However, tobacco industry advertising and promotional expenses, primarily aimed at providing rebates and discounted prices, “more than doubled from $6.7 billion in 1998 to $15.1 billion in 2003,” according to the report in MMWR.

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