By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Although the number of adult smokers in the United States declined slightly between 2005 and 2011, there was no significant change between 2010 and 2011, health officials said Thursday.
Smoking dipped from 20.9 percent to 19.3 percent of the U.S. population between 2005 and 2011, but in the last year the decline slowed to 19 percent. Almost 44 million adults still smoke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the first time, the report gave details on the number of Americans with disabilities who smoke. In 2011, more than 25 percent of those with disabilities smoked, compared with about 17 percent of people without disabilities.
The report was published in the Nov. 9 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, shortly ahead of the American Cancer Society's Great Smokeout on Nov. 15. This annual event encourages smokers to plan to quit on that day or plan to quit permanently.
The largest decline in current smoking occurred among young adults aged 18 to 24, dropping from more than 24 percent to nearly 19 percent.
That was welcome news for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which released a statement from Matthew Myers, the advocacy group's president.
"This augurs well for future declines in adult smoking," Myers said. "The U.S. Surgeon General has found that nearly 90 percent of smokers start by age 18 and almost no one starts smoking after age 25, so these large reductions in youth and young adult smoking offer promise of greater adult smoking declines in the future."
But the overall smoking rate remains a problem, said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
"We are making some progress, but the progress is slower than we need to see given how important the effect of smoking is on our nations' health," McAfee said.
Progress has slowed primarily because states aren't funding tobacco-control programs to the levels they used to, he said.
"There has been a 35 percent decrease in funding of state programs over the last few years," McAfee said. "These are programs that have been incredibly effective."
These programs combine smoke-free laws, increases in tobacco sales taxes, access to smoking cessation programs and media campaigns, McAfee said.
Yet these funding decreases occurred at the same time states were taking in about 35 percent more in tobacco sales taxes, he said.
According to the report, the number of adults who smoke 30 or more cigarettes a day decreased from nearly 13 percent in 2005 to slightly more than 9 percent in 2011.
During the same period, however, the number of adults who smoke one to nine cigarettes a day increased from about 16 percent to 22 percent, the CDC reported.
McAfee said that "this is a way people have responded to higher prices and also taking to heart the message of the horrific effects of smoking on their health."
Smoking fewer cigarettes is only a benefit if it's a step to stopping smoking altogether, McAfee said. "Smoking fewer cigarettes is not a substitute for quitting," he said. "If you go from smoking 20 cigarettes to 10 you aren't cutting your risk in half."
The percentage of Americans who continue to smoke is higher than the 12 percent goal stated in Healthy People 2020, a set of nationwide health goals established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"If you smoke, you are losing over a decade of life on average," McAfee said. Stopping smoking not only increases life expectancy, "it's also increasing your quality of your life. For every smoker who dies there are 20 more smokers still alive with a serious chronic condition, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease or ... cancer."
Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association, said that "while we have made steps forward in reducing the number of adults in the U.S. who smoke cigarettes, we are not doing what we need to do [to get] the most vulnerable populations to quit, and we are not doing what we need to do to make sure people aren't switching to other tobacco products."