September 6th, 2011
02:56 PM ET
The number of adults in the United States who smoke declined by about 1.5%, or 3 million people, from 2005 to 2010, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also found that the number of habitual smokers - those who light up 30 or more cigarettes a day - dropped from 13% in 2005 to 8% in 2010.
"About one-third of all current smokers may die from cigarette use unless they quit promptly," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said. "So we're talking about preventing more than a million deaths because of that decline."
Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, said the decline in smokers since the first Surgeon General's report in the mid-1960s is due largely to societal influences.
"We've seen a de-normalization of smoking," McAfee said. He noted the clean air laws that have gone into effect, as well as cigarette tax increases. "So, it's a little harder for people to smoke, but it's also people feel - feel like they want to cut down."
However, tobacco use still remains the single largest preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the U.S., according to a CDC statement. Nearly one in five adults still smoke and 78.2% of those who do, smoke every day.
“Any decline in the number of people who smoke and the number of cigarettes consumed is a step in the right direction," Frieden said. "However, tobacco use remains a significant health burden for the people of United States."
Each year, an estimated 443,000 people in the U.S. die from smoking-related causes. But McAfee warns about another side effect of cigarettes.
"In these economic times it's important to remember that in addition to the terrible cost of human life, there's also a significant financial burden that smoking places on all of us," he said.
The CDC reports that smoking costs the U.S. about $193 billion each year in medical costs and lost productivity.
Between 2005 and 2010, the percentage of people who smoked heavily - more than a pack a day - decreased significantly, while the percentage of people who smoke less than half a pack a day increased, according to the report. Unfortunately, smoking less is not enough, Frieden said.
"Smokers not only die much younger than nonsmokers, but for the years that they're alive, they feel much older."
Quitting isn't easy - nicotine is an addictive drug and cigarettes deliver more nicotine now than ever before, the CDC reported.
"We know what works: higher tobacco prices, hard-hitting media campaigns, graphic health warnings on cigarette packs, and 100 percent smoke-free policies, with easily accessible help for those who want to quit," said McAfee.
Smokers can get free resources and help quitting by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669) or by visiting www.smokefree.gov.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.