A recently published study has found that as the number of smokers dwindles in some countries, those who still light up are becoming less attached to the habit and more likely to try quitting.
These findings run counter to the theory of ‘hardening’, which has held that as smoking rates decline those who still smoke will be increasingly committed to their habit, said study author Margarete Kulik, a postdoctoral fellow with the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.
"We found out that there is not hardening. There is softening. There is actually more quitting, and people smoke less," Kulik said. Dr. Norman Edelman, senior scientific advisor for the American Lung Association, said the study reflects the success of anti-smoking policies.
In many places, clean air laws have made it more difficult to smoke in public, cigarette taxes have made the habit more expensive, and education campaigns have convinced the public that smoking is harmful and repellant, he said.
"It's conceivable we've reached a tipping point, and have really set in motion a cultural event in which smoking is not acceptable and not enjoyable," Edelman said.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking rates in the US have declined significantly since 1965. Back then, about 42 percent of the adult population smoked; today, around 18 percent of American adults are cigarette smokers. This nevertheless represents some 42 million people.
Kulik and Edelman argued that these findings undermine attempts by e-cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies to sell their products as a way of weaning people away from cigarettes.
"We're making good progress without them," Edelman said. "We don't need them, and we don't know the health effects or addictive potential of e-cigarettes. But it doesn't mean we should stop everything we're doing. We can't let up yet. Just because the goal line is in sight doesn't mean we stop running."