Why Are So Many Americans Still Smoking?

A new report finds one in five U.S. adults still lights up despite the health risks

Despite reams of research and millions spent on smoking cessation programs and education campaigns, about one in five American adults still smoke cigarettes, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worse, after years of being on the decline, quit smoking rates seem to have leveled off. For both 2008 and 2009, a solid 46.6 million Americans reported lighting up within the last 30 days.

Why has the smoking rate stopped falling? Maybe the stress of the Great Recession has people turning to cigarettes for stress relief. Maybe the TV show "Mad Men," which has made its mark on current fashion, has made smoking sexy again too. Or, as the CDC suggests, maybe quit-smoking education campaigns have been most effective in reaching affluent, educated populations, but more must be done to reach lower income households.

That makes sense. The agency found that people with incomes below the poverty line are more likely to light up. (Men are also more likely to smoke than women.) Geographically, rates are highest in the south and Midwest. Smoking is most common in the 25-44 year age group (24 percent) and least common in those age 65-plus (9.5 percent). In all likelihood, rates decline as people age because, well, smokers tend to die earlier than the general population.

As CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., points out: smoking is “the leading preventable cause of death in this country.” It causes 443,000 premature deaths a year and accounts for 30 percent of cancer deaths, the CDC reports. And it affects more than just the smoker -- secondhand smoke causes heart disease, lung cancer, sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma and decreased lung function in children. Approximately 88 million children over age 3 are exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis.

If the health implications weren’t enough to get people to stop, you’d think the cost would be. The average price of a pack of cigarettes is $5.51, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Tax rates range from a high of $5.85 in New York City -- pushing the price per pack over $10 -- to as low as 17 cents per pack in Missouri, which, not coincidentally, has one of the highest smoking rates in the country.

I’m no fan of smoking. I remember well when my grandmother was collecting the stamps that came with each pack of Camels, anticipating the next free Camel-logo freebie she could get. They were among the first things thrown away after she died of lung cancer. And my father’s asthma -- could it be traced to growing up with parent who smoked?

All of this makes me wonder, considering the cost to both your health and your pocketbook, why any would still smoke. Do you smoke? What would it take for you to quit? Chime in below!

Like This? Read These:
- Dr. Nancy Snyderman's Tips to Quit Smoking
- Quit Smoking? 8 Ways to Stay Stopped
- Quiz: Are You Really Ready to Quit Smoking?

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