U.S. adult cigarette smoking rate hits new all-time low

Photo credit: Markus Winkler

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition 

The Associated Press and other media recently covered the CDC’s report that the U.S. adult cigarette smoking rate hit a new all-time low of only 11%. That’s a decrease from 42% in the mid-1960s.

Why am I writing about cigarette smoking in a blog post for The Quiet Coalition? Two reasons. First, I started out as an anti-smoking activist, long before I became a noise activist, but the same general principles apply to my noise activism. Keep pushing. Keep informing decision makers about the problem. Use scientific evidence to support one’s position.

I never smoked, but as a college student what we now call secondhand smoke bothered me. In what might have been a first, in 1969 I asked a professor teaching a small seminar class to ban smoking in class. Of the 12 students in the class, 3 or 4 smoked. There were ashtrays on the table in the room, and smoking in class was acceptable back then. When I asked the professor, he admitted that the smoke bothered him, too, but he was reluctant to take action. I said to him, “You’re the professor. It’s your classroom. The smoke bothers me, and I can’t afford to have my sweater dry-cleaned every week.” He said, “You’re right.” He collected the ashtrays, put them on the windowsill, and when the other students had arrived, said, “The cigarette smoke bothers me and some of your classmates, so I’m asking you not to smoke in class. If you need to take a smoking break, please step outside.”

That was long before the establishment of no-smoking zones in restaurants, or an indoor smoking bans. What empowered Americans pushing for clean air indoors was the Environmental Protection Agency’s determination in 1993 that secondhand smoke was a Class A carcinogen with no known safe lower level of exposure. All of a sudden, those of use complaining about secondhand smoke were no longer seen as neurotic, fussy, interested more in ourselves than someone else’s smoking pleasure, but were health activists, concerned about our own health. As the AP reports, “The rate has been gradually dropping for decades, due to cigarette taxes, tobacco product price hikes, smoking bans and changes in the social acceptability of lighting up in public.”

Second, I hope that some day unwanted noise will be viewed as socially unacceptable, the same way someone lighting a cigarette indoors is now viewed as socially unacceptable. Maybe Congress will enact a noise tax and there will be warning labels about noise on personal listening devices, headphones, and earbuds? I also hope that noise will be redefined from “unwanted sound” to “unwanted and/or harmful sound,” the same way secondhand smoke was redefined by the EPA as a health hazard instead of merely anuisance.

Our noise colleague John Drinkwater coined the phrase “secondhand sound™” to describe unwanted noise made by others. I might call this indoor noise pollution, since noise pollution usually denotes outdoor environmental noise. Noise levels in many bars and restaurants are loud enough to damage auditory health, and are a disability rights issue for people with auditory disorders.

Please join us at The Quiet Coalition and Quiet Communities, Inc. in working together to make the world a quieter and better place for all.


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