Sorry Camel, Fewer People Than Ever Are Smoking Between Every Thanksgiving Course

cameladIt’s been 78 years since Camel rans its full-page Thanksgiving ad encouraging smokers to enjoy a cigarette after every course of their holiday meal to aid with “good digestion.” Since then, food has apparently gotten a lot easier to digest — and people aren’t so keen about dying of lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease — as a new CDC report finds that fewer Americans than ever are aiding their digestion with cigarettes.

According to the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — which has to be our favorite name for all weekly reports and would make a good name for a hybrid prog rock/smooth jazz band — smoking in the U.S. in 2013 was down to only 42.1 million people, down three million from 2005. So even though the U.S. population grew during those years, the number of smokers dropped.

The rate of smoking in the country is at its lowest since 1965, when the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey first started asking that question, in between puffs of its Lucky Strikes of course.

But while cigarette smoking has decreased overall, the CDC says that it is still prevalent among certain demographic groups.


For example, those with less education are more likely to be smokers. While the overall percentage of American adults who smoke is 17.8%, that rate soars to 41.4% for adults with a GED, and 33.2% for people whose education stopped between ninth and eleventh grade. And these numbers remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2013.

Income levels also showed a significant difference between prevalence of smoking. Americans living above the poverty line smoked less frequently than the national average at only 16.2%, while 29.2% of adults living in poverty are smokers. And just as in the education example, while the rate of smoking dropped between 2005 and 2013 among those above the poverty line, it remained constant for the lower-income demographic.

In terms of geographic differences, the CDC says that Americans in the West Census Region (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) had the lowest rate at only 13.6%, in spite of the fact that Native Americans had the highest rate of any single ethnic group at 26.1%.

The region with the highest rate of smoking was the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin), at 20.9%.

All four geographical regions saw declines in smoking between 2005 and 2013.

For the first time, the report looked at smoking prevalence in two other demographic areas — disability and sexual orientation — and found noteworthy differences in each category.

According to the CDC, nearly 1-in-4 of Americans who identified as having a disability were smokers in 2013, compared to only 17% for those who don’t claim to be disabled. An even bigger gab existed between straight adults (17.6% smokers) and the lesbian/gay/bisexual adults (26.6%).

Since these are new stats for the CDC to track, it’s impossible to say whether there has been an increase or decrease in smoking among these populations during the 8-year time period. Guess we’ll just have to wait until 2022.

The CDC is also taking the opportunity of this report to remind Americans not to fall for the “Well, I only smoke a few times a day” trap.

“Though smokers are smoking fewer cigarettes, cutting back by a few cigarettes a day rather than quitting completely does not produce significant health benefits,” said Brian King Ph.D., a senior scientific advisor with CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “Smokers who quit before they’re 40 years old can get back almost all of the 10 years of life expectancy smoking takes away.”


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