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America's Young Adults: Special Issue, 2014

Cigarette Smoking

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.41 Cigarette smoking by youth and young adults has immediate adverse health consequences, including addiction, and accelerates the development of chronic diseases across the full life course. Nearly all adults who become daily smokers first started using cigarettes by 26 years of age.42 Cessation is challenging even for young users.43, 44, 45

Indicator Beh4: Percentage of young adults ages 18–24 who currently smoke cigarettes by gender, selected years 1983–2012
Percentage of young adults ages 18–24 who currently smoke cigarettes by gender, selected years 1983–2012

NOTE: From 1983–1992, current smoking was defined as ever smoking 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and smoking now (traditional definition). Starting with 1993 current cigarette smoking was defined as ever smoking 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and smoking now every day or some days (revised definition). In 1992 half of the sample received the traditional smoking questions and half received the revised questions. For more methodology information, see http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/tobacco.htm.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey.

  • In 2012, 17 percent of young adults ages 18–24 currently smoked cigarettes. A higher percentage of males (20 percent) were current smokers compared with females (15 percent).
  • Between 1983 and the early 1990s, there was a downward trend in the percentage of both male and female young adults who were current smokers. Since the late 1990s, the downward trend in the percentage of young adults who were current smokers continued for both males and females.
  • In 2012, among young adult males, a higher percentage of White, non-Hispanic males (24 percent) were current smokers compared with Black, non-Hispanic (13 percent) and Hispanic males (15 percent). Similarly, among young adult females, a higher percentage of White, non-Hispanic females (20 percent) were current smokers compared with Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic females (7 percent each).
  • In 2012, among young adult males, a higher percentage of males with family incomes less than 100 percent of the poverty level were current smokers compared with males with family incomes 200 percent or more of the poverty level. In contrast, among young adult females, there was no difference in the percentage of females who were current smokers between those with family incomes less than 100 percent of the poverty level and those with family incomes 200 percent or more of the poverty level.

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41 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Current cigarette smoking among adults—United States, 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61(44), 889–894.

42 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.

43 Chassin, L., Presson, C.C., Pitts, S.C., and Sherman, S.J. (2000). The natural history of cigarette smoking from adolescence to adulthood in a midwestern community sample: Multiple trajectories and their psychosocial correlates. Health Psychology, 19(3), 223–31.

44 Mayhew, K.P., Flay, B.R., and Mott, J.A. (2000). Stages in the development of adolescent smoking. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 59(Suppl 1), S61–S81.

45 Riggs, N.R., Chou, C.P., Li, C., and Pentz, M.A. (2007). Adolescent to emerging adulthood smoking trajectories: When do smoking trajectories diverge, and do they predict early adulthood nicotine dependence? Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 9(11), 1147–54.