Ultimately, less smoking will result in fewer cancer deaths, as well as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and lung diseases. —University of Utah professor Randall Burt

PRINCETON, N.J. — The number of Americans who smoke has fallen to 20 percent, tying the all-time low first recorded in 2009, according to a new poll by Gallup.

The decline is sharpest among young adults, a signal the overall rate may continue to fall after years of plateauing.

"This is all very good news," said Randall Burt, professor of medicine at the University of Utah and senior director of prevention and outreach and clinical services at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. "Ultimately, less smoking will result in fewer cancer deaths, as well as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and lung diseases. As those diseases decrease in incidents in mortality, there will be fast cost savings for insurance companies and government entities, in terms of Medicare and Medicaid."

Researchers interviewed a random sample of 1,014 adults in the U.S. and the District of Columbia, ages 18 and older. Their findings indicated that smoking rates have been driven significantly lower among young adults. At the advent the 2000s, smoking fell 9 percentage points — from 34 percent in 2001-05 to 25 percent in 2011-12 —among those ages 18 to 29. Smoking remained the same among those 65 and older, declining a mere 5 points among those 30 to 49.

"Young adults are now about as likely to smoke as are those aged 30 to 64," Gallup noted, "whereas earlier in the last decade they exhibited the highest rate of smoking of any age group."

While scientific discoveries have led to public campaigns against smoking, Burt would say this decline in smoking rates is really driven by a changing public perception.

Burt remembers a time when smoking used to be preferred and encouraged and cool. Now, he said, it is discouraged everywhere and it is no longer cool to smoke. "The entire public vision of smoking has changed from a positive or neutral one to one that's very negative in every way."

Researchers found that the gap between those more educated and those less educated has narrowed. The smoking rates fell no more than 2 points among postgraduates and those with undergraduate degrees and fell 7 points among those with little college experience, while falling 5 percentage points among adults with a high school education.

Kathy Garrett, manager of the Salt Lake Valley Health Department Tobacco Prevention Program, works closely with hospitals, pediatricians, workplaces and wellness coordinators, to provide services for their employees for patients that smoke. She also works with doctors and dentists, providing information to their patients about how to quit smoking. Garrett also works with parks and restaurants, as well as bars, which went smoke-free in 2009.

There is always more to be done, Garrett said. "Nationwide, we have worked really hard to increase tobacco taxes. If states are successful in doing this, a decline in smoking rates will follow."

The Centers for Disease Control has been working with the U.S. government, creating anti-smoking ads that feature a smoker, Terrie Hall, who warns against the long-term effects of smoking in an unnervingly hoarse voice. Earlier this month, the CDC said the ads were effective enough to justify another ad campaign.

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.