THURSDAY, Nov. 10, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Despite the known dangers of smoking, about 20 percent of Americans still light up, but almost 70 percent want to quit, a new government report shows.
"This study is reassuring to us," Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a noon press conference Thursday.
There was a concern that there was a group of smokers who would remain smokers and not be interested in quitting, but, "in fact, what this study shows is quite the opposite," McAfee said.
The percentage of smokers appears to hover around 20 percent as people take up the habit, he said. "But there has been a decline in the last five years in the rate of smoking, and smokers are actually smoking less," he added.
"Perhaps the most dangerous situation we are in is we have seen over the past five years a flattening of the downward trend in youth initiation. We are very worried that there are a number of things that have been happening in terms of tobacco industry marketing techniques that affect youth," McAfee said.
The report was published in the Nov. 11 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
According to the report, 68.8 percent of current smokers say they want to quit and 52.4 percent tried to quit during the past year.
In addition, 48.3 percent of smokers who saw their doctor in the past year say they got advice to quit. Moreover, 31.7 percent had counseling alone or with drugs to help them quit in the past year. And about 6 percent quit successfully in the past year.
McAfee noted that most smokers who manage to quit do so without the help of drugs or counseling. "About 20 percent of people take medication or sign up for counseling," he said.
Other factors that are equated with quitting are education, where 11 percent of those with a college degree were able to quit, compared with 3 percent of those who did not graduate from high school, McAfee said.
In addition, blacks had the highest interest in quitting and the highest quit attempt rate than any other group, but blacks also had the lowest rate of successful quitting, McAfee said. Blacks were also less likely to use medication or counseling, he noted.
In addition, blacks were more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes, which decreases the rate of quitting, McAfee said.
If you can't quit by yourself, the best way to quit is with a combination of counseling and drugs like Zyban, Chantix or other nicotine replacement therapy, the CDC report said.
"Smokers who try to quit can double or triple their chances by getting counseling, medicine or both," CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said in a statement.
"Other measures of increasing the likelihood that smokers will quit as they want to include hard--hitting media campaigns, 100 percent smoke-free policies, and higher tobacco prices," he added.
The CDC is releasing the report as part of the annual Great American Smokeout on Nov. 17. The event is sponsored by the American Cancer Society, and encourages smokers to make a plan to quit, or quit smoking that day.
The report also notes that the growth of smoke-free workplaces and public places offer smokers another incentive to quit.
In addition, the health care industry can help smoker quit through comprehensive insurance coverage with no deductibles or co-payments for cessation treatments and services.
Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death and disease, including cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung diseases. Each year in the United States, smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke kill some 443,000 people, the report noted.
In addition, for every smoking-related death there are 20 people living with a smoking-related disease, the agency said.
Vince Willmore, vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that "the CDC report confirms that most smokers want to quit, but too many don't get the help they need to succeed."
"To help more smokers quit, it is critical that all private and government health plans provide affordable and accessible coverage for smoking-cessation medication and counseling, and that states use more of their tobacco revenues to properly fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs," he said.
States must also continue to enact policies that encourage quitting, including higher tobacco taxes and smoke-free air laws, Willmore said.
In a related move, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that most of the warning letters it recently sent to more than 1,200 tobacco retailers were about illegal sales of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to minors.
FDA inspections of tobacco retailers found that most are in compliance with the law, but some still sell tobacco products to youngsters. Retailers who continue to violate the law could face fines.
"It should worry every parent that 20 percent of U.S. high school students smoke cigarettes," FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in an agency news release.
"For many young people, that first cigarette or use of smokeless tobacco will lead to a lifetime of addiction, and for many, serious disease," she said. "More than 80 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before 18 years of age. Retailers are vital partners in the FDA's efforts to prevent tobacco use among kids."
For more on quitting smoking, visit the Smokefree.gov.