CDC study finds more smokers only lighting up occasionally

Thursday, April 10th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Statistics released Thursday show a growing number of U.S. smokers aren't lighting up as often, but federal officials say cutting back without quitting is just as dangerous as not quitting at all.

A comparison of annual state surveys conducted from 1996 to 2001 shows that while the percentage of smokers remained steady, the number who said they smoked only occasionally rose in 38 states and the District of Columbia.

Analysts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point to increased cigarette prices, higher taxes and smoking bans in public areas as likely reasons people are lighting up less frequently.

``This is still a phenomenon that we don't fully understand,'' said Terry Pechacek, associate director for science for the CDC's Office for Smoking and Health. ``When it was first picked up in the 1980s, it was discounted in the public health community as an almost aberrant phenomenon. It was almost unusual for someone not to be a daily smoker.''

The annual telephone survey asked ``Have you smoked at least 100 cigarettes in your entire life?'' and ``Do you now smoke cigarettes every day, some days, or not at all?''

Of those who said they smoked, 24.1 percent said they smoked only some days rather than daily.

The CDC didn't offer a comparable national number for occasional smokers, but officials said state numbers show a dramatic rise.

Among the states showing an increase in the number of occasional smokers, Arizona went from 16.2 percent in 1996 to 28 percent in 2001; Delaware, 13.5 percent to 24 percent; Nevada, 10 percent to 22 percent; and Ohio, 9.76 percent to 20 percent. The District of Columbia had the highest percentage of smokers who said they only smoked occasionally, at 41.2 percent.

``We're seeing a pattern of cutting down,'' Pechacek said. ``We assume this is something people are doing to try to reduce their risk, but there's no safe alternative to quitting smoking.''

Reducing tobacco use by half or more without quitting ``did not decrease mortality rates from tobacco related diseases compared with'' heavy smokers of 15 or more cigarettes a day, a recent study found.

States should have comprehensive tobacco control programs to encourage smokers to stop smoking, the CDC said.

The highest smoking rate was in Kentucky at 30.9 percent; the lowest was Utah at 13.3 percent. None of the states has yet met health officials' 2010 goal of having a rate of 12 percent or less.