Most smokers want to quit and a majority have tried, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released on Thursday. The CDC numbers show that most tobacco users know that they should stop— but still struggle to kick the habit.
In 2010, 68.8 percent of American adult smokers said they wanted to quit and 52 percent said they have tried to within the past year, according to the CDC report. Nearly 32 percent had used counseling or medications in their efforts, and 48 percent got advice from a health care provider in the past year.
Yet only 6 percent had recently managed to quit smoking altogether.
“More than two-thirds of smokers want to quit smoking and more than half tried to quit last year,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a statement. “Smokers who try to quit can double or triple their chances by getting counseling, medicine, or both. Other measures of increasing the likelihood that smokers will quit as they want to include hard–hitting media campaigns, 100 percent smoke–free policies, and higher tobacco prices.”
The CDC used data from more than 27,000 people interviewed as part of the National Health Interview Survey in 2010.
Encouragingly, the survey showed more adults ages 25-64 tried to kick the habit, said Tim McAfee, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. But there’s noticeable variation: Those with more education were more likely to have recently quit than their less-educated peers. Those with insurance are far more likely to quit than the uninsured.
Of particular interest, McAfee said, was the finding that “blacks had the highest interest in quitting and highest number of quit attempts, but lowest success rate -- 3.3 percent.”
“This is also a group three times more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes,” McAfee noted. They are also less likely to turn to counseling or medication in their efforts to stop smoking.
“What we’re concerned about, honestly, is that society is losing its enthusiasm for supporting smokers,” McAfee said. “One of our biggest concerns is that many of the states have drastically cut back their efforts, not only because of tough economic times.”
Those cutbacks have occurred as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have made it easier to get quit-smoking services. Until recently, Medicaid did not offer states the flexibility to help smokers quit with medication or counseling, said McAfee; and until recently, Medicare only offered such services to seniors who had already contracted a smoking-related disease, said Ann Malarcher, who led the CDC study.
“A lot of this is momentum that CMS has in Medicaid because they’ve done the math,” McAfee said. Fewer smokers mean fewer smoking-related chronic conditions and hospitalizations—a boon both to the public health and to the CMS budget.
Tobacco use and secondhand smoke kills 443,000 Americans each year, according to CDC data. For every smoking-related death, there are 20 people with a smoking-related disease such as heart disease, cancer, or lung disease.
Most Americans start smoking when they’re young. President Obama started smoking as a teenager, and only managed to quit recently—after years of public struggle. Chewing nicotine gum helped him kick the habit.
Tobacco companies continue to target young people through marketing and distribution campaigns, McAfee said. “We need to be more aggressive as a society around protecting our children—for whom this is an illegal drug—around marketing and distribution practices,” he argued.
The Food and Drug Administration was given the authority to combat the sale and marketing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to minors through the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The agency announced on Thursday that it has sent out warning letters to more than 1,200 retailers, mostly to chastise them for selling tobacco products to minors.
“Warning letters may be followed by civil money penalties if retailers continue to violate the law,” the FDA said in a statement. The agency has inspected more than 27,500 retail locations so far.
But FDA's efforts to regulate tobacco don't always go smoothly. On Monday, a federal judge blocked an FDA rule requiring graphic warning labels on cigarette packs.