Smoking continues to drop in the U.S., according to the CDC.

A little more than one in five U.S. adults were smokers in 2004. That’s 44.5 million people, or 20.9 percent of the population, down from nearly 21.6 percent in 2003.

Smoking was more common in America just a few years ago.

In 2002, the figure was even higher — 22.5 percent.

Heavy smoking has also dropped over the last 11 years. In 2004, about 12 percent of smokers reported smoking 25 or more daily cigarettes, compared to 19% of smokers in 1993.

The numbers appear in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Room for Improvement

The figures are heading in the right direction, but not quickly enough, says the CDC.

The federal government’s goal is for smokers to make up 12 percent or less of the U.S. population by 2010.

“We are encouraged by the continued decline in cigarette smoking among U.S. adults and want to congratulate those who have successfully quit,” says CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, in a news release.

“Quitting smoking is the most important step smokers can take to improve their overall health and reduce their risk of disease,” Gerberding says.

The Best Quitters

The states with the most smokers in 2004 were:

—Kentucky: 27.6 percent

—West Virginia: 26.9 percent

—Oklahoma: 26.1 percent

—Tennessee: 26.1 percent

—Ohio: 25.9 percent

The states or territories with the fewest smokers in 2004 were:

—U.S.Virgin Islands: 9.5 percent

—Utah: 10.5 percent

—Puerto Rico: 12.7 percent

—California: 14.8 percent

—Idaho: 17.5 percent

In the majority of states, most people have never been smokers. Among those who have ever smoked, most have quit, the CDC reports.

Four states — Connecticut, California, Vermont, and Utah — stood out. As of 2004, at least 60 percent of people who were once smokers in those states had kicked the habit.

Sex, Race, and Education

Men were more likely than women to be current smokers (23.4 percent of men and 18.5 percent of women).

Regarding education, smoking was most common among people who had earned a general educational development (GED) diploma or who hadn’t graduated from high school.

In terms of race, the 2004 figures were as follows:

—Asians: 11.3 percent

—Hispanics: 15 percent

—Blacks: 20.2 percent

—Whites: 22.2 percent

—American Indians/Alaska Natives: 33.4 percent

The CDC’s data came from two national health surveys. One survey was done in person; the other was done by telephone.

Numbers are based on participants’ reports of their own smoking habits, which weren’t confirmed.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Nov. 11, 2005; vol 54: pp 1121-1127 News release, CDC.