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Percentage of Pack-a-Day Smokers Hits Record Low in U.S.

Percentage of Pack-a-Day Smokers Hits Record Low in U.S.
by Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • New low of 26% of smokers report smoking a pack or more a day
  • More than three in four smokers have tried to quit
  • 64% of former smokers quit after one or two attempts

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The percentage of smokers in the U.S. who light up a pack or more of cigarettes a day has fallen sharply over the past decade and is now at an all-time low of 26% in Gallup's seven-decade trend. The figure topped 30% as recently as 2012 and routinely exceeded 50% until the late 1990s.

Smoking1 (1)

The latest findings are from Gallup's annual Consumption Habits poll, conducted July 13-17. The trend shows a continuous decline in the percentage of heavy smokers over the years -- with a particularly sharp drop since the late 1990s, when public smoking bans were implemented in many states and municipalities.

The decline in the percentage of heavy smokers somewhat mirrors a long-term decline in the overall percentage of Americans who smoke. Gallup's data show that 19% of Americans report having smoked cigarettes in the past week, similar to recent years and well below the levels of 40% or higher in the 1940s to early 1970s.

Most Cigarette Smokers Have Tried to Quit

The percentage of current smokers would be even lower if smokers had their wish, as most (74%) say they would like to give up smoking, and the vast majority have made some attempt at kicking the habit. Smokers surveyed in 2013 and 2016 who have tried to quit are split between those who have tried once or twice (39%) and those who have made even more attempts (43%).

Number of Times Smokers Say They've Tried to Quit
How many different times in your life, if any, have you made serious attempts to quit smoking? [Open-ended]
Never Once or twice Three to 10 times More than 10 times
% % % %
2013, 2016 17 39 38 5
Averages of polling from July 10-14, 2013, and July 13-17, 2016; Gallup

Six in 10 Former Smokers Kicked the Habit in One or Two Tries

Twenty-five percent of those interviewed in Gallup's 2013 and 2016 surveys say they are former smokers. The majority of this group, 60%, report that they were able to do away with their smoking habit in one or two attempts, with the rest saying it took more tries.

Number of Attempts It Took Former Smokers to Quit
How many different times in your life did you make serious attempts to quit smoking? [Open-ended]
Once or twice Three to 10 times More than 10 times
% % %
2013, 2016 60 31 5
Averages of polling from July 10-14, 2013, and July 13-17, 2016; Gallup

The fact that so many former smokers were able to quit in only one or two attempts, while current smokers have tried and failed multiple times, underscores the dilemma public health officials face when trying to further reduce the smoking rate. Those who continue to smoke apparently have an addiction to nicotine that is particularly acute.

Bottom Line

The laws and attitudes surrounding smoking in the U.S. have changed over the past several decades, and so have smoking habits. Public health officials have reason to be encouraged by record lows in both the percentage of Americans who smoke and the percentage of heavy smokers.

Though a strong majority of Americans who used to smoke were successful at quitting in their first or second attempt, four in 10 current smokers have tried to quit more than twice and still have not been able to. While tobacco may be a substance that is easy for many Americans to stop using, it's a heavier lift for the majority who still use it.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 13-17, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,023 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.


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