Smoking Cigarettes at All-Time Low (Plus Tips to Quit) - Dr. Axe

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Smoking Cigarettes at All-Time Low (Plus Tips to Quit)


Cigarette smoking rates and how to quit

Bad news abounds, but here’s a major positive: Cigarette smoking in the U.S. dropped to an all-time low in 2020, with only 1 in 8 adults saying they were current smokers, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study.

So while the pandemic witnessed more folks drinking more alcohol than usual (and that continues to today), the rate of smoking substantially declined. Happily, adult e-cigarette usage also went down.

Let’s take a look at this study, what it means and then some tips for those still smoking to finally quit!

CDC Study: Smoking Cigarettes at All-Time Low

It’s hard to fathom now, but 42 percent of U.S. adults in 1965 were smokers. That rate steadily decreased over the decades to 21 percent in 2005 and to 13.7 percent in 2018.

Then the pandemic came, and based on a CDC survey of more than 31,000 U.S. adults, 12.5 percent of Americans admitted to smoking cigarettes in 2020. (For all tobacco products, the rate is 19 percent.) The equates to an estimated 30.8 million adults in the U.S. currently smoking cigarettes. (Yes, we still have a way to go. See below.)


Needless to say, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S., accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths. In fact, more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

Some other interesting data points:

  • Men were more likely than women to currently smoke cigarettes (14.1% to 11%).
  • Current cigarette smoking was highest among people aged 25–44 years (14.1%) and 45–64 years (14.9%). Current cigarette smoking was lowest among people aged 18-24 years (7.4%) and over the age of 65 (9%).
  • Current cigarette smoking was higher among people with a lower annual household income than those with higher annual household incomes.
  • Current cigarette smoking was highest in the Midwest (15.2%) and the South (14.1%) and lowest in the West (9%).
  • Current cigarette smoking was higher among adults who regularly had feelings of depression (26.9%) than adults who did not (11.8%).

What It Means

Why did such a decline happen during a pandemic? And will it continue? Some experts say that higher prices of cigarettes and changes in lifestyles during the pandemic impacted the rates of smoking.

For example, so-called social smokers didn’t have places to congregate. Parents home with their kids didn’t want to smoke around them. The fact that pandemic involved a virus that could affect the lungs also likely played a role.

Of course, a smoking decline was also happening because of higher taxes along with smoking bans in workplaces, restaurants, bars, etc. Price hikes also made a big impact, as some companies raised prices several times in 2020 alone.

Tips to Quit Smoking

Did you know that the benefits of quitting smoking begins reducing your risk for heart and lung disease, certain types of cancer and diabetes within a few hours? For example, carbon monoxide from cigarettes is dispelled from the body, increasing oxygen levels.

Be aware that conventional therapies with nicotine can transfer your nicotine addiction from one item to another. Instead, a better way to go is use mind-body practices that are proven to be effective for relieving many of the withdrawal symptoms experienced when you are quitting smoking.

When quitting smoking, the physical and emotional side effects can be significant. Finding a way to ease the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal is key to your success. In the first days and weeks after having your last cigarette, work to find your recipe for success using mind-body practices:

1. Do Yoga

Researchers reviewed studies from a nine-year period that examined yoga’s role in smoking cessation success. What they found is that smoking and yoga are linked — both focus on breathing and creating relaxation. So, replacing smoking with yoga makes perfect sense. Ex-smokers enjoy reduced heart rate and blood pressure, increased pulmonary function and a relaxed mind, plus it increases the chances of successfully quitting smoking.

2. Start Exercise

A study conducted by researchers from the Moffitt Cancer Center at the University of South Florida shows that using a combination of yoga and aerobic exercise — to fight both the immediate need for a cigarette as well as to manage cravings — may be the best avenue for success. The study found that cardiovascular exercise and hatha yoga reduce cravings after just one hour of nicotine abstinence.

3. Try Mindfulness Meditation

Multiple studies have shown that mindfulness training and meditation help to change behavioral smoking patterns. One of the studies, conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, found that mindfulness training resulted in a reduction of cigarette use immediately and at a 17-week follow-up appointment.

4. Guided Imagery

In the same vein as meditation, guided imagery has participants create and follow a visualization plan to relax and manage stress. Guided imagery can be practiced with an instructor or leader, or it can be practiced whenever or wherever it is needed. Before stopping smoking, developing a vision that takes you to a place of healing, calmness and serenity can help you manage the cravings when you quit. When you find yourself feeling cravings, visualize this scene to help you feel calmer and stay focused on your goal to quit.

5. Try Tai Chi

This ancient Chinese tradition is practiced today as a gentle and graceful exercise. A series of movements are performed in a focused and slow manner, accompanied by deep breathing. Tai chi is known for promoting stress reduction. It is also recognized for combatting many of the withdrawal symptoms ex-smokers face, like improved mood and sleep. As you develop in your practice, tai chi begins to become a meditative art. And, for smoking cessation, research shows it helps to break the cycles of addiction and habit. (28)

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