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Who still smokes in the United States — in seven simple charts

Some Americans still smoke far more than others. (JB Reed/Bloomberg News)

Cigarette smoking among U.S. adults has fallen to the lowest rate in generations, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's good news, considering that smoking still accounts for about 480,000 deaths annually in the United States, along with an estimated $300 billion in health costs and lost productivity.

But the CDC numbers also offer an interesting glimpse at the 17 percent of adults who continue to light up. People in the Midwest, for instance, smoke more on average than Americans elsewhere in the country. People on Medicaid are more than twice as likely to smoke as those on Medicare. Adults with a GED certificate smoke at eight times the rate of those with graduate degrees. Asians smoke less than other ethnic groups. Men smoke more than women, but not by much.

[This type of nicotine use tripled among middle and high school students, study says]

Here are seven charts, based on CDC data, that detail the current landscape of smoking in the United States:

1) Half a century ago, more than two of every five adults were smokers. But that has fallen steadily over time. From 2005 to 2014, the adult smoking rate declined from 20.9 percent to 16.8 percent. Public health officials are hoping to to drive that rate below 12 percent by 2020.

2) Cigarette smoking has fallen sharply among 18- to 24-year-olds. In fact, the percentage of smokers in that age group dropped by nearly a third over the past decade, CDC data show,  the sharpest decline of any group. But that striking change might be attributable, at least in part, to the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, hookahs and other "non-cigarette tobacco products," CDC officials said.

3) People with lower levels of education tend to smoke at higher rates. The new data also show that smoking among people with graduate and undergraduate degrees has fallen more sharply over the past decade than among most other groups.

4) Smoking among multiracial people and those classified as American Indian or Alaska Natives (AI/AN) far outpaces that of other ethnic groups. Notably, Asians continue to have the lowest rate of smokers and, along with Hispanics, have cut their smoking rates steeply over the past decade. CDC officials said the disparities across ethnic groups, which are consistent with previous research, might partly be due to cultural differences related to the acceptability of tobacco use.

5) Midwesterners still smoke at higher rates than anyone else in the country. This was true a decade ago. But Thursday's data show that while other regions have cut smoking rates by 20 percent or more since 2005, the Midwest's dropped only 14.4 percent.

[The FDA is trying to keep 'hip-hop' teens from smoking]

6) U.S. adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid smoke at rates more than double that of people who have Medicare or private insurance. There could be many factors at play here. But health officials said one contributing factor is likely the "variations in tobacco-cessation treatment coverage and access to evidence-based cessation treatments" across different insurance types.

7) The number of heavy smokers seems to be declining. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of daily smokers dropped from 36.4 million to 30.7 million. Those daily smokers also reported smoking fewer cigarettes over time, from an average of 16.7 a day in 2005 to 13.8 a day in 2014. The number of people smoking more than 30 cigarettes a day fell by almost half.

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