Most U.S. Smokers Want to Quit, Have Tried Multiple Times
Former smokers say best way to quit is just to stop "cold turkey"
by Frank Newport
PRINCETON, NJ -- Most current smokers in the U.S. would like to give up smoking. Perhaps as a testimony to their desire to quit, 85% of smokers say they have in fact tried to quit at least once in their lifetime, including 45% who have tried at least three times.
These data are from Gallup's annual Consumption Habits poll, conducted July 10-14.
There hasn't been a lot of sustained or significant change in smokers' desires over the years. An average of 74% of smokers have said they wanted to quit over the 25 surveys on which Gallup has asked this question since 1977. There is a small number of smokers in any one sample for which this question is asked, increasing the chances for minor variations from year to year.
The finding that smokers have tried on average 3.6 times to quit smoking over their lifetimes -- only to return to their habit -- is more understandable in light of the fact that 72% of smokers claim that they are "addicted" to cigarettes.
As was the case for the trend in smokers' self-reported desire to quit, this addiction trend has not varied significantly on a sustained basis over the last 22 years. But in 1990, when the question was first asked, 61% of smokers said they were addicted. Of course, it may be in smokers' best interest to claim that they are addicted to smoking, because that mental conviction may help reduce the cognitive dissonance that knowingly engaging in an unhealthy habit can produce.
Overall, 19% of Americans in Gallup's July Consumption Survey say they currently smoke, 24% are former smokers (they used to smoke on a regular basis), and 56% have never smoked. The quarter of Americans who are former smokers are primarily defined by age: 41% of those 65 and older used to smoke, but do not now, compared with 12% of those aged 18 to 29.
Quitters Most Likely to Use "Cold Turkey" Strategy
The quarter of Americans who have successfully quit smoking, when asked to name the strategies or methods they used to quit, are most likely to attribute their success to just deciding to quit "cold turkey." Smaller percentages of reformed smokers name willpower, support from family and friends and prayer, use of the nicotine patch, ceasing to be around people who smoke, using chewing gum or candy, and using an electronic cigarette.
Health Cited Most Often as Reason for Quitting
The former smoker group was also asked to detail the major reasons or factors that finally caused them to quit smoking. These reformed smokers were by far most likely to mention factors relating to health, including mentions of pregnancy, bronchitis, cancer, and other causes.
Fewer former smokers say they quit because of the expense of smoking, because smoking was a bad or disgusting habit, or because of their family and friends.
Smokers on average are engaging in a habit they wish they didn't have, and, in fact, the average smoker has attempted to quit at least three times in their lifetime. The difficulty in quitting is attested to by the fact that more than seven in 10 smokers say they are addicted to cigarettes.
The varied strategies for quitting cited by former smokers suggest there is not a dominant "magic bullet" method, but rather just a basic decision at some point in smokers' lives to quit cold turkey.
The majority of former smokers say their concern for their health was the main factor that caused them to quit smoking. This is an important finding, but given that 91% of smokers already admit that smoking is harmful to smokers' health and 79% admit that smoking is a cause of lung cancer, it is clear that the specter of bad health, disease, and death has not been enough in and of itself to get smokers to stop.