ATLANTA — Despite years of anti-smoking campaigns, lawsuits and bans, the smoking rate among American adults has hardly budged during the 1990s--because more and more 18- to 24-year-olds are lighting up.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that 24.7% of adults smoked in 1997. As a result, the CDC expects to fall far short of its goal of reducing smoking to 15% of the adult population by 2000.
"During the 1990s we've made virtually no progress whatsoever," said Michael Eriksen, director of the CDC Office of Smoking and Health. "The fact that we can't get rates below 25% really speaks to the addictive power of nicotine."
About 48 million adults smoked cigarettes in 1997, according to a CDC survey that year of more than 35,000 people nationwide. The rate was the same--24.7%--in 1995. It was 25.5% in 1990.
Among most adult age groups, smoking rates actually declined from 1990 to 1997, but the percentage of smokers ages 18 to 24 increased during that period, from 24.5% to 28.7%.
U.S. smoking rates have dropped drastically since 1965, when 44% of adults were lighting up. Over the following quarter of a century, more health warnings came out, tobacco ads were banned from the airwaves and no-smoking signs appeared in restaurants, offices and airplanes.
Rather than continuing to decline, however, smoking rates leveled off during the 1990s.
At the same time, public awareness campaigns continued to warn of the dangers of smoking. The patch and nicotine gum went on the market. And states sued tobacco companies to recoup the cost of treating sick smokers.
Philip Morris, the nation's largest tobacco company, had no comment on the CDC report.
Health officials anticipate a drop in smoking rates in 1999 because cigarette makers raised their prices after their $206-billion legal settlement with 46 states.