Smoking rate continues to fall, though not as fast

Fewer American adults are smoking cigarettes and those who still smoke have cut back, but the rate of decline has begun to slow, U.S. health experts said Tuesday.

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke are the leading cause of preventable deaths and diseases in the United States, killing an estimated 443,000 Americans each year.

The report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 19.3 percent of American adults over age 18 — roughly 45 million people — smoked in 2010, down from 20.9 percent in 2005.

"That represents 3 million fewer smokers in 2010 than there would have been five years ago," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told reporters.

According to the CDC, 21.8 percent of smokers had fewer than 10 cigarettes a day in 2010, compared with 16.4 percent in 2005.

Only 8.3 percent of smokers were considered heavy smokers in 2010 — smoking more than 30 cigarettes a day — compared with 12.7 percent in 2005.

"People who smoke are smoking less, but we can do much better," Frieden said.

Smoking rates in the United States have fallen sharply following the first warnings in the mid-1960s that cigarette smoking could cause lung and other cancers and a host of other health problems such as heart disease and stroke.

And while smoking rates are still falling, CDC officials said, the pace of decline from 2005 through 2010 is slower than in the previous five-year period.

More than 221,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011, according to the American Cancer Society. The World Health Organization predicts tobacco will kill nearly 6 million people this year, including 600,000 non-smokers.