Adult smoking in N.C. reaches another historic low in 2016

The state’s adult smoking rate dropped to another historic low in 2016, this time to 17.9 percent, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday.

That still means about 1.41 million out of 7.9 million adult North Carolinians are smokers, according to data from N.C. State Center for Health Statistics.

The rate remains slightly above the national rate of 17.1 percent.

By comparison, the state’s 2015 Youth Tobacco Survey determined that 9.3 percent of high-school students and 2.3 percent of middle-school students were current smokers.

The survey also found that 16.8 percent of N.C. high schoolers had used an electronic cigarette and vaporizer, 3.5 percent a hookah product and 3.1 percent a little cigar.

Nationally, just 8 percent of high schoolers smoked at least once over a 30-day period during 2016. E-cig and vaporizer usage fell from a high of 16 percent in 2015 to 11.3 percent for 2016.

According to the state’s 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance survey, smokers on average tend to have less education, lower income and not be actively employed.

About 25 percent of North Carolinians with disabilities smoke, as do about 20 percent of rural residents.

“There are still large disparities in smoking rates across populations, and half of the people who continue to smoke will die of a smoking-related disease,” Dr. Susan Kansagra, chief of the Chronic Disease and Injury Section in the N.C. Division of Public Health, said in a statement.

“We need to provide smoking cessation opportunities and support to those who want to quit, especially people in the populations and communities where we find higher smoking rates.”

Neither Kansagra nor DHHS recommended the use of e-cigs and vaporizers to smokers as a cessation or reduced-risk option.

Several prominent studies, including the Royal College of Physicians, have suggested or cited that e-cigs can be as much as 95 percent less harmful than traditional combustible cigarettes.

Instead, Kansagra and DHHS encouraged smokers to call QuitlineNC (800-784-8669), a state service that provides free assistance that has had mixed results for helping smokers completely quit their habit.

“People who are addicted to nicotine need non-judgmental, personalized support to quit for good,” Kansagra said.

Anti-tobacco advocates recommended other strategies for discouraging smokers, including: funding tobacco control programs at the CDC-recommended levels; increasing prices of tobacco products; raising state and national tobacco excise tax; implementing and enforcing comprehensive smoke-free laws; and restoring money to traditional and social media campaigns.

Tobacco-prevention programs focused on teens gained their first state funding since 2012 in the 2017-19 state budgets.

One set of $500,000 is to be used “to develop strategies to prevent the use of new and emerging tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, by youth and people of childbearing age.” The other $500,000 would be divided between QuitlineNC and You Quit Two Quit, a program focused on helping pregnant women or women who want to become pregnant to stop using tobacco.

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