Press Room

Public Health Leaders Note Great Progress in National Adult Smoking Rate Reduction, But More Needs to be Done

ARLINGTON, VA (June 21, 2018)—New data from CDC’s 2017 National Health Interview indicates that smoking rates among U.S. adults have hit an all-time low, with only 13.9 percent indicating they smoked last year. The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) believes that these findings represent a major public health success, but more work needs to be done, as cigarette smoking is responsible for almost 500,000 deaths each year and the toll of tobacco use on heart disease and cancer alone has resulted in extensive human suffering. 

For the past five decades, national public health leaders and state and territorial health departments have worked diligently to implement evidence-based practices and policies to curb tobacco use. ASTHO is pleased to see the positive results of these public health efforts, including evidence-based interventions such as smoke-free workplace policies, laws that increase the tobacco purchase age to 21, and state quitlines to help smokers quit, and increasing the cost of tobacco products.

“Tobacco control is widely recognized as a priority by state public health leaders across the nation. State leaders have led the way by enacting evidence-based interventions that have made a difference,” says John Wiesman, president of ASTHO and secretary of health at the Washington State Department of Health. “However, we must address other tobacco related issues, such as e-cigarettes and vaping, and disparities like the high rates of tobacco use among individuals with behavioral health conditions, and challenge aggressive marketing practices targeting youth and minority communities where there is a greater prevalence of smoking, particularly those from lower income groups.”

Continued tobacco control funding and implementation of evidence-based tobacco control policies are still needed at the state and territorial level. Cigarette smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, but funding has been reduced from longstanding sources like tobacco taxes and Master Settlement agreement revenues. States are now on the front lines of reducing youth access to tobacco products and e-cigarettes that encourage addiction to nicotine.

“While these declines are certainly encouraging, the battle is far from over,” says Nicole Alexander-Scott, president-elect of ASTHO and director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. “Big Tobacco continues to shamelessly target youth and lower income communities with their dangerous, highly addictive products. We cannot stop fighting until every single person has an equal opportunity to breathe free and thrive, no matter what ZIP code they live in, and no matter their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, level of education, level of income, or insurance status. Together, we absolutely can make this happen.”


ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and freely associated states, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice.