ATLANTA - Cigarette smoking rose slightly for the first time in almost 15 years, dashing health officials’ hopes that the US rate had moved permanently below 20 percent.
A little under 21 percent of US adults said they smoked, according to a 2008 national survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up slightly from the year before, when 19.8 percent said they were smokers. It also is the first increase in adult smoking since 1994, specialists noted.
The increase was so small, it could be just a blip, so health officials say smoking prevalence is flat, not rising. But they are unhappy.
“Clearly, we’ve hit a wall in reducing adult smoking,’’ said Vince Willmore, spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
There’s a general perception that smoking is a fading public health danger. Feeding that perception are indoor smoking laws, cigarette taxes, and Congress’s recent decision to allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco.
But health officials believe gains have been undermined by cuts in state tobacco-control campaigns. Some advocates believe tobacco companies are overcoming increasing obstacles.
Cigarette marketing has persisted and is effectively reaching children and minorities with messages about flavored or menthol products, said Dr. Clyde Yancy, president of the American Heart Association.
The tobacco industry also has been discounting cigarettes to offset tax increases.
Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and illness in the United States and is a cause of cancers, heart disease, and other conditions.