Tobacco in the United States

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Tobacco has a long cultural, economic, and social impact on the United States. Tobacco cultivation in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1610 lead to the expansion of British colonialism in the Southern United States. [1] As the demand for Tobacco grew in Europe, further colonization in British America and Tobacco production saw a parallel increase. [2] Tobacco use became normalized in American society and was heavily consumed before and after American independence.


Tobacco distribution is measured in the United States using the term, "tobacco outlet density." [3] An estimated 34.3 million people, or 14% of all adults (aged 18 years or older), in the United States smoked cigarettes in 2015. By state, in 2015, smoking prevalence ranged from between 9.1% and 12.8% in Utah to between 23.7% and 27.4% in West Virginia. By region, in 2015, smoking prevalence was highest in the Midwest (18.7%) and South (15.3%) and lowest in the West (12.4%). Men tend to smoke more than women. In 2015, 16.7% of men smoked compared to 13.6% of women. [4] In 2018, 13.7% of U.S. adults were smokers. [5]

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for approximately 443,000 deaths, or 1 of every 5 deaths, in the United States each year. [6] Cigarette smoking alone has cost the United States $96 billion in direct medical expenses and $97 billion in lost productivity per year or an average of $4,260 per adult smoker.

In 1964 the Surgeon General of the United States published the Smoking and Health report, which identified smoking as the cause of many health problems. [7] The report greatly changed the public perception of tobacco use from being safe to hazardous. [7]

History of commercial tobacco

Commercial tobacco production dates back to the 17th century when the first commercial crop was planted. The industry originated in the production of tobacco for pipes and snuff. Different war efforts in the world created a shift in demand and production of tobacco in the world and the American colonies. With the advent of the American Revolution trade with the colonies was interrupted which shifted trade to other countries in the world. During this shift there was an increase in demand for tobacco in the United States, where the demand for tobacco in the form of cigars and chewing tobacco increased. Other wars, such as the War of 1812 would introduce the Andalusian cigarette to the rest of Europe. After 1880 production of tobacco in America increasingly focused on the manufactured cigarette.

Current smoking among adults in 2016 (nation)

According to the research, for every 100 U.S adults, age 18 or older, more than 15 smoked cigarettes in 2016. In other words, there are about 37.8 million cases of cigarette smokers in the United States. More than 16 million Americans are living with a smoking-related disease. However, the number of smokers in 2016 has decreased to 15.5% which is a 5.4% difference from 2005. This shows an increase in the number of smokers who have quit. Men smoke at a higher rate than women. At every 100 adults, men nearly got 4 more cases than women. [8]

Overall, it is estimated that 5.66 million adults in the US population reported current vaping 2.3%. From those users in the population, more than 2.21 million were current cigarette smokers (39.1%), more than 2.14 million were former smokers (37.9%), and more than 1.30 million were never smokers (23.1%). [9]

Statistics in 2018 estimated that about 14.9% of adults (18 and over) had ever used e-cigarettes, and around 3.2% of all adults in the United States were current e-cigarette users. These same stats also noted that 34 million U.S. adults were current smokers, with E-cigarette usage being highest among current smokers and former smokers who are attempting or have recently quit cigarettes. [10]

The 2010s within the United States saw both the advent and uptick in the prevalence of vaping among American youths. Electronic cigarettes are one of the most up-and-coming forms of nicotine delivery for U.S. consumers. The first commercial e-cigarette hit the markets in 2006. [11] Reports in 2018 estimated that youth vaping is present among 27.5% of the youth population. This is a stark comparison to the 5.5% of reported youths within the United States who smoke combustible nicotine such as cigarettes. [12]

According to government survey data released in April 2023, smoking rates in the United States fell to their lowest point in 2022, with 1 in 9 adults reporting being a smoker. In 2022, the percentage of adult smokers dropped from 12.5 percent in 2020 and 2021 to about 11 percent. According to survey data, e-cigarette use increased to nearly 6 percent in 2022 from about 4.5 percent the previous year. Only about 2 percent of high school students smoked traditional cigarettes in 2022, but about 14 percent used e-cigarettes, according to other CDC data. [13]

The prevalence of smoking by age [14]
18 – 24 years old8.0%
25 – 44 years old16.7%
45 – 64 years old17.0%
65 and older8.2%
Age% of population who vape [12]
13 year olds6%
14 year olds10%
15 year olds15%
16 year olds22%
17 year olds24%
18 year olds25%
The prevalence of smoking by educational level [14]
Fewer years of education (no diploma)24.1%
GED certificate35.3%
High school diploma19.6%
Some college (no degree)17.7%
Associate degree14.0%
Undergraduate degree6.9%
Graduate degree4.0%
The prevalence of smoking by race/ethnicity [14]                
Non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaska Natives20.9%
Non-Hispanic Other races19.7%
Non-Hispanic Blacks14.9%
Non-Hispanic Whites15.5%
Non-Hispanic Asian7.2%


On February 4, 2009, the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 was signed into law, which raised the federal tax rate for cigarettes on April 1, 2009 from $0.39 per pack to $1.01 per pack. [15] [16]

Lobbying and organizations

There has been intensive lobbying in the US to portray smoking as a harmless activity. The Insider is a 1999 feature film about the production of a news segment exposing Big Tobacco. The raising influence Social Media has on new generations of teens has provided new platforms for anti-smoking organizations. A prime example is TruthOrange sponsoring YouTube's content creators to include their ads. As well as using YouTube's ads algorithm to provide their target audience, teens, a thirty-second ad.

Lobbyists include:


Tobacco plants growing; in the United States Patch of Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum ) in a field in Intercourse, Pennsylvania..jpg
Tobacco plants growing; in the United States

443,000 Americans die of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke each year. For every smoking-related death, another 20 people suffer with a smoking-related disease. (2011) [17]

California's adult smoking rate has dropped nearly 50% since the state began the nation's longest-running tobacco control program in 1988. California saved $86 billion in health care costs by spending $1.8 billion on tobacco control, a 50:1 return on investment over its first 15 years of funding its tobacco control program. [17]

Companies and products

Some of the notable tobacco companies in the US are:

Marketing to the black community

Historian Keith Wailoo argues the cigarette industry targeted a new market in the black audience starting in the 1960s. It took advantage of several converging trends. First was the increased national attention on the dangers of lung cancer. Cigarette companies took the initiative in fighting back. they developed menthol-flavored brands like Kool, which seemed to be more soothing to the throat, and advertised these as good for your health. A second trend was the Federal ban on tobacco advertising on radio and television. There was no ban on advertising in the print media, so the industry responded by large-scale advertising in Black newspapers and magazines. They erected billboards in inner-city neighborhoods. The third trend was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Big Tobacco responded by investing heavily in the Civil Rights Movement, winning the gratitude of many national and local leaders. Menthol-flavored cigarette brands systematically sponsored local events in the black community, and subsidized major black organizations especially the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). They also subsidized many churches and schools. The marketing initiative was a success as the rate of smoking in the black community grew, while it declined among whites. Furthermore, three of four black smokers purchased menthol cigarettes. [18]


An estimated half a million children worked in the fields of America picking food as of 2012, although the precise number working in tobacco fields is unknown. In eastern North Carolina, children have been interviewed as young as fourteen who worked harvesting tobacco, and recent news reports describe children as young as nine and ten doing such work. Federal law provides no minimum age for work on small farms with parental permission, and children ages twelve and up may work for hire on any size farm for unlimited periods outside school hours. According to Human Rights Watch, farm-work is the most hazardous occupation open to children. [19] [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cigarette</span> Small roll of cut tobacco designed to be smoked

A cigarette is a narrow cylinder containing a combustible material, typically tobacco, that is rolled into thin paper for smoking. The cigarette is ignited at one end, causing it to smolder; the resulting smoke is orally inhaled via the opposite end. Cigarette smoking is the most common method of tobacco consumption. The term cigarette, as commonly used, refers to a tobacco cigarette, but the word is sometimes used to refer to other substances, such as a cannabis cigarette or an herbal cigarette. A cigarette is distinguished from a cigar by its usually smaller size, use of processed leaf, and paper wrapping, which is typically white. Most modern cigarettes are filtered, although this does not make the smoke inhaled from them contain fewer carcinogens and harmful chemicals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tobacco smoking</span> Practice of burning tobacco and breathing the resulting smoke

Tobacco smoking is the practice of burning tobacco and ingesting the resulting smoke. The smoke may be inhaled, as is done with cigarettes, or simply released from the mouth, as is generally done with pipes and cigars. The practice is believed to have begun as early as 5000–3000 BC in Mesoamerica and South America. Tobacco was introduced to Eurasia in the late 17th century by European colonists, where it followed common trade routes. The practice encountered criticism from its first import into the Western world onwards but embedded itself in certain strata of a number of societies before becoming widespread upon the introduction of automated cigarette-rolling apparatus. The World Health Organization states secondhand smoke—that from other people's smoking—causes 1.3 million of the 8 million annual deaths caused by smoking.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prevalence of tobacco use</span> Percentage of population smoking tobacco

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Menthol cigarette</span> Cigarette flavored with the compound menthol

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Tobacco harm reduction (THR) is a public health strategy to lower the health risks to individuals and wider society associated with using tobacco products. It is an example of the concept of harm reduction, a strategy for dealing with the use of drugs. Tobacco smoking is widely acknowledged as a leading cause of illness and death, and reducing smoking is vital to public health.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electronic cigarette</span> Device that vaporizes a liquid nicotine solution for inhalation

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flavored tobacco</span> Tobacco product with added flavorings

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoking in Canada</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoking in the United Kingdom</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Drugs in the United States</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoking in the Philippines</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Regulation of electronic cigarettes</span> International regulations

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  16. American Lung Association Celebrates Public Health Victory
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Further reading

Primary sources