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What's Up Magazine

Who Still Smokes?

Nov 02, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo

The CDC reports that 12 to 15 percent of adults in Maryland light up, but recent American Cancer Society research finds certain groups are more vulnerable than others.

By Kelsey Casselbury

The statistics are staggering: 480,000 Americans die each year due to smoking, making it the single most preventable cause of death in the U.S. More than 16 million Americans suffer from a smoking-related disease. And, yet, nearly 38 million people in this country still light up those cigarettes, and 75 percent of them do so every day. 

OK, time for the good news. The number of people who smoke has consistently declined over the past five decades, from 42 percent in 1965 to 15 percent in 2015. That’s some significant progress. Maryland is lower on the list of states where people smoke, with a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fact sheet pegging the total percentage of adult smokers in the state between 12.1 and 15.3 percent. Our neighboring states—Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and Delaware—all have higher rates of smoking, with West Virginia reaching an estimate between 21.8 and 25.1 percent. 

With all the effort that the government, health agencies, and others have put into curbing smoking in the U.S., there’s one question to be answered: Who still smokes? The American Cancer Society recently released a report that answers that very question. 

Military. A significant number of folks in the Chesapeake region serve in the military, a segment that’s much more likely to smoke than the general population. The lowest pay grades of enlisted service members—E-1 to E-4—are the likeliest to light up, while the rate of O-4 to O-10 officers (the highest pay grades) that smoke is below five percent. 

Education. The rate of college-educated smokers is just one-third of the rate of adults who have a high school education or less (6.5 percent versus 23.1 percent). In fact, the most significant decrease in smokers over the past half-century has been among those who are college-educated. 

Income. Nearly 25 percent of adults in households below the poverty line smoke, compared to just 10 percent of those in higher-income households, defined as greater than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. 

Race and Ethnicity. All racial and ethnic groups have decreased smoking over the past decade, but American Indians and Alaskan natives are most likely to still light up. People who are of Asian or Hispanic/Latino descent are the least likely to smoke. 

Mental Illness. Evidence suggests that some people with a mental illness have a genetic predilection toward addition and self-medication, which could include nicotine use. Smoking is most common among those who have schizophrenia, but prevalence is double in those with a mental illness than those without.  

Sexual Orientation. ACS study authors claim that the tobacco industry has specifically marketed to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning community, which might be a reason why smoking is higher for those in this community.

Do you see yourself in one of these groups as a person who still smokes? You’re never too old to quit, and within one year, your risk of a heart attack drops drastically. After two to five years, the risk of a stroke is the same as that of a non-smoker, and within five years, the likelihood of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancers drops by half. For lung cancer, it will take 10 years for the risk to cut in half, but it’s worth it—use these resources to make the change now.

Ready to Quit? Use These Resources

The Maryland Tobacco Quitline

Anne Arundel County Department of Health


Anne Arundel Medical Center Smoking Cessation Programs