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Study: Significant decline in smoking rates among younger adults, but challenges persist among older demographics

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Efforts to further reduce smoking among older adults are critical

Smoking rates decline in most age groups: ©Mbruxelle - stock.adobe.com

Smoking rates decline in most age groups: ©Mbruxelle - stock.adobe.com

A cross-sectional study identified trends in smoking prevalence, finding both progress and challenges in the battle against tobacco use. The cross-sectional study analyzed responses from 353,555 adults across the 2011-2022 National Health Interview Surveys, and was published in JAMA Network.

The study reveals that adults below the age of 40 have experienced dramatic declines in smoking rates over the last decade, particularly among those with higher incomes. In contrast, adults aged 40 to 64 witnessed relatively slow decreases in smoking prevalence, while no decline was observed among those aged 65 or older.

Researchers say the findings underscore the need to maintain efforts in reducing smoking among younger adults while emphasizing the urgency of additional measures to address smoking in older age groups. Despite an overall decline in smoking rates among adults in the United States, the study notes constant or increasing trends among those aged 65 or older, and slower declines among adults aged 40 to 64, especially among those with lower income and educational levels.

The study acknowledges the positive trend in smoking reduction among those younger than 40, particularly in the 18 to 24 age group, reaching historically low levels of smoking prevalence, especially among individuals with higher incomes. However, it suggests that efforts are required to further decrease smoking in older adults, given that most smoking-related deaths occur in this demographic.

While the impact of COVID-19 on smoking trends since 2019 remains inconclusive, the study signals a promising future for younger populations, with declining smoking initiation translating into rapid decreases in smoking prevalence among young adults. The researchers stress the importance of increasing smoking cessation programs, particularly targeting middle-aged and older adults, to further reduce smoking-related mortality.

The study highlights disparities based on socioeconomic status (SES) and race and ethnicity, noting a lack of decline among individuals with low SES, racial and ethnic minorities aged 65 or older, and consistently higher smoking prevalence among individuals with lower incomes across all age groups. The researchers advocate for targeted interventions, such as a menthol ban in cigarettes and cigars and increased taxes on combustible tobacco products, to reduce health disparities and improve health equity.

The role of e-cigarettes is also considered, with the study acknowledging their potential as a smoking cessation aid for older adults. While the use of e-cigarettes is currently less common among older adults, the researchers suggest it could play a crucial role in reducing smoking rates in this demographic.

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