Only 6 percent actually stopped, however, and that rate varied widely by education, with college-educated people kicking the habit three times better than those with high school education or less, researchers said. Blacks had the highest desire to quit and the highest attempt rate, but the lowest success for a number of reasons, the researchers said.
In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC officials reported the results of its National Health Interview Survey of more than 27,000 people last year. Of current smokers, 68.8 percent said they wanted to quit for good and 52.4 percent had tried while 6.2 percent had stopped recently. About a third of those attempting to quit had received counseling or medication or both to help, according to the survey.
Success varied by education level, with 3.2 percent of those without a high school diploma quitting versus 11.4 percent of the college-educated, said Dr. Tim McAfee, the director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the CDC.
Insurance coverage also influenced success, with the uninsured having the lowest rate of 3.6 percent versus 7.8 percent for those with private insurance and 9.3 percent for those with military insurance, McAfee said. There might be a number of factors at play with the uninsured, he said.
“Of course, there is also overlap with having lower educational status and higher poverty rates but they are less likely to see a physician, if they see a physician, they are less likely to be advised (to quit), and they are the lowest group for use of medications or receipt of counseling,” McAfee said.
Paradoxically, black smokers had the highest desire to quit of any group at 75.6 percent, and the highest attempt rate at 59.1 percent, but the lowest success rate at 3.3 percent versus 6 percent for whites, he said. Blacks were less likely to get medication or counseling than whites and are three times as likely to smoke menthol cigarettes, which a Food and Drug Administration committee said is linked to lower smoking cessation rates, McAfee said.
The success in quitting rate is usually not published but will now serve as a benchmark, said Dr. Ann Malarcher, the lead author on the report.
“We really want to look at recent success” she said. “We hope to move the needle and get more people to quit each year over time.”
Many people trying to quit have a hard time affording medications that can help, such as Chantix, which can cost $120 a month, said Cheryl Wheeler, who teaches Freshstart smoking cessation classes and is coordinator for the Cancer Registry at University Hospital. For her, the report is bittersweet news.
“It’s encouraging that they want to quit,” Wheeler said. “It is discouraging that they can’t.”