Who Smokes, Who Starts—and Why

March 24, 1989

Report Outline
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Mark Twain is said to have quipped that quitting smoking was easy—he'd done it dozens of times. Little wonder: Nicotine is an addictive drug, and some say quitting tobacco is harder than quitting heroin. So millions of people keep lighting up. But as dangerous as smoking is known to be, and as antisocial as it has become, who would start smoking in the first place these days? The answer is teenagers—for the most part, certain, identifiable teenagers—and the reasons they start are intertwined with all the growing pains of adolescence.

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The combination of government health warnings against smoking and social contempt for the habit has had a dramatic effect on American society: If smoking once was considered glamorous, today it is seen as “deviant behavior.” “Smoking,” says University of Connecticut sociologist Barry M. Glassner, “signifies bad morality, not just a health danger,”

Indeed, nearly half of all living adults who ever smoked have quit. In 1964, the year of the surgeon general's first health warning against smoking, at least half of American men smoked. Today, fewer than a third do. The prevalence of smoking among adults of both sexes dropped from 40 percent in 1965 to 29 percent in 1987.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Smoking and the Tobacco Industry
May 10, 2019  E-Cigarette Dilemma
Sep. 19, 2014  E-Cigarettes
Dec. 10, 2004  Tobacco Industry Updated
Nov. 12, 1999  Closing In on Tobacco
Dec. 01, 1995  Teens and Tobacco
Sep. 30, 1994  Regulating Tobacco
Dec. 04, 1992  Crackdown on Smoking
Sep. 21, 1990  Tobacco Industry: on the Defensive, but Still Strong
Mar. 24, 1989  Who Smokes, Who Starts—and Why
Oct. 05, 1984  Tobacco Under Siege
Jan. 21, 1977  Anti-Smoking Campaign
Nov. 24, 1967  Regulation of the Cigarette Industry
Nov. 14, 1962  Smoking and Health