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That's down from nearly 17 percent in 2014 and almost 18 percent in 2013. The falloff reflects a continued decline that started in 2010 after a decade of no progress against smoking, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.
Higher tobacco taxes, tough anti-smoking messages and smoke-free laws that ban smoking from indoor and outdoor areas appear to be dissuading even hard-core, heavily addicted smokers from continuing the habit, said Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.
"I hear from smokers all the time, 'When I can't smoke here, I can't smoke there, when people see me smoke they look at me like I'm a pariah -- it makes me want to not smoke anymore,' " said Folan, who applauded the continued decline of smoking in America.
The new data comes from the CDC's 2015 National Health Interview Survey, an annual survey that tracks a variety of public health issues.
The smoking rate has fallen dramatically since 1965, when 42 percent of adults smoked, the CDC said.
But between 2004 and 2009, progress stalled, and the U.S. smoking rate hovered around 20 percent. Anti-smoking activists wondered if there would be no way to convince the remaining diehard smokers to quit tobacco.
These [new] numbers show that America's current anti-smoking strategy works, and that we need to do "more of the same," said Thomas Carr, director of national policy for the American Lung Association.
Carr cited smoke-free laws as one innovation that's made a real difference. But he added that only one state -- North Dakota -- has passed a comprehensive smoke-free law within the last five years. There still are 22 states that haven't passed any limitations on where a person can smoke, he said.
"It could have an impact on the smoking rate, and definitely would protect more people from secondhand smoke," Carr said.
Carr and Folan also cited anti-smoking ads that feature smokers talking about the toll the habit has taken on their lives and their health.
"Smokers find them so painful to watch that they keep changing the channel, but these ads are running everywhere," Folan said. She's heard from smokers that these spots have motivated them to quit and to resist the temptation to resume.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's push to begin regulating other smoking products, such as cigars, hookahs and e-cigarettes, could also help further reduce the smoking rate, Carr added.
"That's something the Obama Administration needs to move on," Carr said.
Experts don't know whether e-cigarettes have played a role in the reduction of the smoking rate, as there haven't been enough studies conducted to assess their impact, Carr and Folan said.
"We haven't seen the evidence of that yet," Carr said. "Up to 75 percent of the users are dual users. They use e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes at the same time. That's not reducing your risk at all."
Who continues to smoke? More men smoke than women -- 17 percent compared with 13 percent, the CDC reported.
Race also plays a factor, with more blacks (18 percent) smoking than whites (17 percent) or Hispanics (10 percent).
Folan believes that future anti-smoking efforts will need to be more targeted. For example, people without a high school diploma, people with low income, and those struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse are all groups that have proven resistant to the anti-smoking groundswell.
Cliff Douglas, American Cancer Society vice president for Tobacco Control and director of the American Cancer Society's Tobacco Control Center, said the new numbers are "encouragingly consistent with the decrease we've seen since 2009, especially following the stagnation of the mid-2000s."
Douglas said the differences in smoking between men and women and between the races "highlight the importance of something that's crucial to us -- addressing disparities in the tobacco epidemic."
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