The state with the lowest percentage of residents who smoke also has the highest percentage of smokers who have quit.

Utah is not only maintaining its national ranking as the state with the lowest smoker prevalence — 9.8 percent — it has the highest prevalence of quitters in the country — 47.9 percent, according to a nationwide study released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the past nine years, the number of Utahns who smoke has dropped by two-thirds. In 1999, 30 percent of Utahns smoked. Utahns 18 to 35 years old — the age group targeted by both tobacco company advertising and the state's comprehensive anti-smoking campaign — are not starting or are quitting at a faster rate than any other state.

U.S. territories were also included in the study. The Virgin Islands have a lower smoker rate than Utah (9.1 percent), and its percentage of quitters is a close second behind Utah at 46.4 percent. About 12.5 percent of Puerto Ricans smoke.

Among the 50 states, California has the second-lowest percentage of smokers (14.9 percent). That is likely due to the implementation of some of the country's strictest smoking bans since 1999, according to the report.

Minnesota is the second-highest state in percentage of quitters — 43.7.

Utah's numbers are due in part to the strong social norm against using tobacco but is also directly linked to a strong anti-smoking advertising campaign under way in the state since 1999 by the state Department of Health.

"It's not only encouraging that we are maintaining our low rate of use, but that the campaign message is getting through," said Lena Dibble, campaign coordinator. An independent evaluator of the state's anti-smoking effort recently reported that nearly 90 percent of Utahns 18 to 25 had seen an advertisement and that it had made them think negatively about smoking.

Dibble said she is "very encouraged" to note the the CDC report strongly supports a sooner-the-better approach to smoking cessation, the same message the health department has been promoting since 1999.

Although quitting smoking has major and immediate health benefits for persons of all ages, the benefit is greater the earlier in life a person quits, the report states, noting that those who stop before age 35 have a life expectancy almost identical of those who never smoked.

An annual state health department report released earlier this month puts the Utah's smoking prevalence at 9.5 percent, or 190,000 people. During the past year, 33 apartment/condominium complexes, 20 businesses and 21 parks and outdoor sports venues became smoke-free zones.

Annually, more than 1,100 Utah adults die as a result of their own smoking, and an estimated 140 to 250 adults, children and babies die due to secondhand smoke exposure, according to the health department. It estimates that the Utah economy loses $530 million each year to smoking-attributable medical and productivity costs.

The CDC report concludes that although effective interventions have been identified for preventing smoking initiation and increasing cessation rates, they have not been implemented adequately by most states.

The CDC's full report is available at