The rate of cigarette smoking in the United States continued to decline last year, reaching a new low of 26.5 percent of adults, according to a survey to be published today by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The federal survey marks a significant decline from the 30.4 percent of adults recorded as smokers in 1985 by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and shows steady progress toward the 25 percent goal set for 1990 by the government.

"The public is increasingly becoming aware that this is a very dangerous addiction," said Dr. Ronald Davis, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, which conducted the survey late last year.

Cigarette smoking generally has declined nationally since the surgeon general first reported its adverse health effects, including lung cancer, in 1964 when the rate of cigarette smoking was 40 percent. In 1979, it was identified as "the single most preventable cause of death," claiming 320,000 victims annually.

The CDC's latest survey of 13,031 respondents 17 years of age or older showed that 29.5 percent of men smoke, compared with 23.5 percent of women. Blacks registered a higher rate of smokers -- 32.5 percent for men and 25.1 percent for women.

Black males aged 25 to 34 represent the highest rate of smokers -- 46.9 percent. Of black men and women aged 35 to 44, 36.4 percent smoke, according to the poll.

All segments of society recorded significant declines since the 1985 NCHS poll when 33.2 percent of men and 27.9 percent of women said they smoked. It found smokers among 40.6 percent of black men and 31.6 percent of black women.

The 1985 poll and the CDC findings to be published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report used different methodologies. But the differences do not alter the results significantly for purposes of comparison, Davis said.

Davis said the most recent decline is sharper than expected and part of a "dramatic trend" that will continue until all but "hard-core smokers," representing 10 percent to 15 percent of the population, are eliminated.

Smoking, he said, not only is increasingly seen as hazardous but also becoming less socially acceptable as local and state governments move to restrict it in public places and work places. High state taxes also discourage cigarette sales, he said.