Cigarette smoking rates sank to their lowest level in more than half a century, according to the latest government figures, although tobacco use remained high as consumers pivot to alternative products.
Just 11.5% of Americans regularly lit up cigarettes last year, better than the 12% goal set by the U.S. government’s Healthy People 2020 plan and the lowest level since 1965, according to a report from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, about one in five adults reported using a tobacco product in 2021, nearly unchanged from the previous year, with e-cigarette use rising to 4.5%.
Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. and other companies have contributed to the shift in tobacco consumption, expanding into smoke-free nicotine alternatives as cigarette use declines. The number of e-cigarette products, which include Imperial Brands Plc’s Blu vapes and Juul from formerly Altria-backed Juul Labs Inc., more than quadrupled in a year from June 2021 to 2022, according to a Truth Initiative analysis.
The products have become popular among kids and young adults, in part because of a perception that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes. The use of creative flavors has also led to charges that the manufacturers deliberately court the youth market.
E-cigarettes are also used by those who are looking for a traditional cigarette substitute or are trying to quit, though no e-cigarette has been shown to safely help people quit. About a third of people who reported using multiple tobacco products smoked both cigarettes and e-cigarettes, the study said.
While cigarettes’ popularity has steadily declined since the 1960s, their use remains high in certain populations, including those with low incomes and living in rural areas, according to the study. Those disparities should be addressed through strategies like increasing product prices, running educational campaigns and regulating products, researchers said.
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