Smoking and the Statistics

Recently, I shared with you about the new campaign by the CDC about smoking cessation and my thoughts on it. In the post, I linked to YouTube videos that let you see the ads in case you had not had a chance to see them yet. I shared with you how I think that this new campaign is more effective than previous campaigns that focus more on death as a consequence than bodily injury or mutilation as a result of this destructive habit.

After looking through those ads, let’s look at some of the statistics of smoking and see what kind of damage we are doing as a nation.

Looking at young people first: according to the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, each day in the US, 3,800 people under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette. 3,800! On average, that is 76 young people trying their first cigarette each day per state in the United States. In a year, that number totals to over 1 million. 1,387,000. Not only are they trying this “cool new thing”…but they are doing something illegal. The smoking age is 18. Out of those 3,800, an estimated 1,000 become daily cigarette smokers. And that’s a total of 365,000 new daily smokers each year. That number is astounding and nobody is being held responsible, nor is much being done about this.

So, let’s look at some statistics from the CDC in 2009 about youth and smoking. We’ll start by looking at the percentage of high school students who smoked one or more cigarettes in the previous month, are current cigar smokers or current users of smokeless tobacco:

Cigarettes        Cigars              Smokeless      Category – High School

19.5%              14.0%              8.9%                of all high school students

19.1%              8.8%                2.2%                of all female students

19.8%              18.6%              15%                 of all male students

9.5%                12.8%              3.3%                of black, non-Hispanic students

18%                 12.7%              5.1%                of Hispanic students

22.5%              14.9%              11.9%              of white, non-Hispanic students

After looking at this, these numbers are high but not altogether unexpected. If you find yourself around five different groups of high school students, you would expect one of the groups to be smoking out of the five (friends like to do what their buddies are doing – looks cool, they aren’t left out…etc). The cigar numbers seem extraordinarily high to me, especially for female students. I can’t honestly say that I have ever seen a high school student smoking a cigar and the number of females I have ever seen smoking a cigar is able to be counted on one hand. And, having gone to a “country” high school, the smokeless tobacco numbers seem very low. That was exceedingly common in my high school – and that was a decade (plus) ago.

But, what is your guess about middle school students? Do you think that they really start smoking that early…or is that just an anomaly? Let’s look at some of the CDC’s numbers:

Cigarettes        Cigars              Smokeless      Category – Middle School

5.2%                3.9%                2.6%                of all middle school students

4.7%                3.2%                1.4%                of all female students

5.6%                4.6%                3.7%                of all male students

5.2%                4.7%                1.7%                of all black, non-Hispanic students

2.5%                1.4%                1.7%                of all Asian, non-Hispanic students

6.7%                6.2%                2.5%                of all Hispanic students

4.3%                3.0%                2.5%                of all white, non-Hispanic students

Any of those numbers shock you? It did me. I certainly knew it was becoming more and more common but not quite that common. This data says that, on average, out of a group of 20 middle school children, 1 of those children smokes. On average, 1 out of 25 middle school children smokes cigars, and 1 out of 40 uses smokeless tobacco. And they’re just that. Children.

While these numbers are two years out of date at this time, I don’t think they are going down at all but rather up. And, if that’s the case, that is a scary trend.

Smoking is addictive and causes damage to the body. The earlier you start, the more damage you can do to a developing body and brain.

Here are some of the factors that the CDC has compiled as being associated with smoking in youth:

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Use and approval of tobacco use by peers or siblings (peer pressure)
  • Exposure to smoking in movies (modeling of behavior)
  • Lack of skills to resist influences of tobacco use (again, peer pressure – unable to stand up to it)
  • Smoking by parents or guardians and/or lack of parental support or involvement (again, modeling of behavior)
  • Accessibility, availability and price of tobacco products
  • A perception that tobacco use in the norm
  • Low levels of academic achievement
  • Low self-image or self-esteem
  • Exposure to tobacco advertising
  • Aggressive behavior (example: fighting, carrying weapons)

All of these risk factors compound the risk that youth will try and, often, subsequently become addicted to tobacco-containing products. Thankfully, there are fewer ads promoting smoking these days – but movies and other forms of entertainment (as well as those in the spotlight) still make it seem as though this is a normal thing that should be done by everyone.

Looking at the data for adults, it’s not much better. The data from 2010 shows that men are more likely to smoke than women (21.5% versus 17.3%). The age range that has the highest percentage of smokers is 25-44 year olds at 22% while those over the age of 65 have the lowest rate at 9.5%. If you look statistically by race or ethnicity, American Indians/Alaska Natives, non-Hispanic, (put into one category by the CDC) have the highest rate of smoking at 31.4%. Asians, non-Hispanic and excluding Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, have the lowest rates of smoking at 9.2%.

Education plays a huge part in your likelihood of smoking. The less education that you have, the more likely you are to smoke. Of adults that only have a GED, 45.2% of them smoke; of adults that have 9-11 years of education, 33.8% of them smoke; and of adults that have only a high school diploma, 23.8% of them smoke. These numbers drop significantly as soon as an undergraduate degree is earned (no data available from the CDC about associate degrees and the impact on smoking). For adults that have earned an undergraduate degree, 9.9% of them smoke. And, for adults that have earned a postgraduate college degree, only 6.3% of them smoke.

Someone’s poverty level also plays a role in the likelihood they will smoke. 28.9% of adults who live below the poverty level smoke. (Oh, the irony! If you’re below the poverty level, don’t you have something better to spend your money on instead of wasting it on cigarettes or other tobacco products? [I’m not naïve…I understand that many of them get welfare and so we’re paying for it, anyway.]) And 18.3% of people living at or above the poverty line smoke.

These are scary numbers – let’s be honest! These numbers all look at the American population. One out of five men smokes, and one in six women smokes! When you start breaking down the numbers like that instead of looking at percentages, it seems like a lot more for certain. And that’s unfortunate.

Check back later for my next installment of the Smoking series!

My references:

Smoking and Tobacco Use at the CDC

Adult Fact Sheet at the CDC

Youth Fact Sheet at the CDC

Smoking at Medline Plus