Cigarette Smoking

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, smoking damages every organ in the human body. Cigarette smoke contains toxic ingredients that prevent red blood cells from carrying a full load of oxygen, impairs genes that control the growth of cells, and binds to the airways of smokers. This contributes to numerous chronic illnesses, including several types of cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, reduced bone density and fertility, and premature death.1

In 2006, more than 61.5 million people in the United States aged 12 and older smoked cigarettes within the past month. Smoking was less common among females aged 12 and older (22.4 percent) than among males of the same age group (27.8 percent). Cigarette use has declined over the past several decades among both sexes, though it has leveled off in recent years. In 1985, the rate among males was 43.4 percent while the rate among females was 34.5 percent.

Among women, the rate of smoking varied by race and ethnicity in 2006. American Indian/Alaska Native women were most likely to have smoked cigarettes in the past month (39.1 percent), followed by non-Hispanic White women (24.9 percent). Asian/Pacific Islander women were least likely to have smoked cigarettes (9.7 percent).

Quitting smoking has major and immediate health benefits, including reducing the risk of diseases caused by smoking and improving overall health.2 In 2006, nearly 46 percent of female smokers aged 18 and older reported trying to quit at least once in the past year; however, this varied by age. Women aged 18–44 were most likely to have attempted quitting (49.3 percent), followed by women aged 45–64 years (44.3 percent). Fewer than 30 percent of female smokers aged 65 years and older attempted to quit smoking in 2006 (data not shown).3 Research indicates that smoking cessation programs, including behavioral therapy, telephone support, and pharmacotherapy, may increase the likelihood of quitting smoking,4 although participation rates in such programs are unknown.

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The health consequences of smoking: a report of the Surgeon General. 2004.
2 Mayo clinic. Food and Nutrition, Alcohol and your health: Weighing the pros and cons [online]. May 2006., accessed 03/31/08.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2006. Analysis conducted by the Maternal and Child Health Information Resource Center.
4 Ranney L, Melvin C, Lux L, McClain E, Morgan L, Lohr K. Tobacco Use: Prevention, Cessation, and Control. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 140. (Prepared by the RTI International) University of North Carolina Evidence-Based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-02-0016). AHRQ Publication No. 06-E015. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. June 2006.

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