In 1990, the CDC reported that the smoking rate was 25.5% (around 46 million) adult smokers, so when the smoking rate dropped to 19.3% in 2010 there were only...45 million smokers. How can that be? Well, the population went up, so even though the number of smokers remained virtually unchanged, the percentage of smokers went down - making it appear as though there was a significant drop over that 20 year period.
Twenty years of tobacco control policies and there was only a 2.2% drop in the number of smokers! This is especially disappointing when you consider that the Healthy People 2010 objective of a 12% smoking rate would have meant 28 million smokers in 2010 - a goal missed by a whopping 17 million.
Tobacco control organizations prefer point to the smoking rates as evidence that their "abstinence only" policies - which aim only to get people to quit or stop people from starting - are working. So, they use those rate drops to support calls for more smoking bans, more product bans and more "sin" taxes. They also use this smoke-and-mirror "progress" to justify opposition to tobacco harm reduction policies and products, arguing that those are "unproven" to help smokers quit or reduce health risks, so we should continue to use their "evidence-based" policies that work.
However, the real evidence is in the actual number of smokers and that is why you won't see them reporting that number has only dropped by 1 million, because dropping from 25.5% to 19.3 % sounds much more impressive. We need to acknowledge that regardless of whether it's 25% or 19%, there are still well over 42 million adult smokers in the U.S. and come up with policies that actually save lives, rather than policies and numbers that just sound impressive.
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