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US Smoking Hits All-Time Low but Rates Are Still High in Poor Areas

US Smoking Hits All-Time Low but Rates Are Still High in Poor Areas

Cigarette smoking has hit an all-time low in the United States - but progress is lopsided, according to a new report.

Just 14 percent of Americans consumed a tobacco product in 2017, federal data show.  

But figures have barely budged in poorer communities, where smoking-related cancers are far more common than in rich areas. 

It has taken decades to drive down the smoking rate, and the new milestone, published today in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, is groundbreaking.

However, lead author Eric Leas said he was astonished by how different the situation is for non-white, poor Americans.

'The degree of inequity was surprising,' Leas, a postdoctoral scholar from the Stanford Prevention Research Center, told LA Times.

Leas' study is an analysis of data from the 500 Cities Project, which launched in 2016 to monitor chronic disease.

The 500 Cities Project collected self-reported data on smoking, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and coronary heart disease (CHD). 

According to Leas, it seemed to be a good way to better understand how the drop in tobacco use was playing out on a community level. 

His research team gathered the Project's smoking data, taking note of each person's race and socioeconomic status (whether they live in a poor area or an affluent area). 

They found stark differences between groups, with smoking much higher among poor, non-white Americans. 

Some cities had particularly stark divides. 

For example, smoking rates are very low among more affluent, white people in Washington, DC. But the capital's poor, non-white citizens also have some of the highest smoking rates. 

Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami had less stark, but equally significant gaps. 

Neighborhoods with higher smoking rates also, of course, have higher rates of smoking-related diseases like COPD, heart disease and asthma. 

In fact, the areas with the highest smoking rates have 39 percent higher rates of those diseases compared to areas where few people smoke. 

'The industry is adept at putting bulls-eyes on the backs of people they believe can be manipulated,' said Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, the national public health organization that directs and funds the truth campaign. 

'Making cigarettes cheaper and more addictive are just two of the many ways that the tobacco industry exploits hard working communities. Where you live, how much you have, or what you do shouldn't determine how much you're worth.'

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