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Epidemiol Rev. 1995;17(1):48-65.

Epidemiology of tobacco use and dependence.

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  • 1Epidemiology Branch, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA. 30341-3724, USA.


Knowledge of the epidemiology of tobacco use and dependence can be used to guide research initiatives, intervention programs, and policy decisions. Both the reduction in the prevalence of smoking among US adults and black adolescents and the decline in per capita consumption are encouraging. These changes have probably been influenced by factors operating at the individual (e.g., school-based prevention programs and cessation programs) and environmental (e.g., mass media educational strategies, the presence of smoke-free laws and policies, and the price of tobacco products) levels (for a discussion of these factors, see, e.g., refs. 2, 48, 52, 183, and 184). The lack of progress among adolescents, especially whites and males, and the high risk for experimenters of developing tobacco dependence present cause for great concern (48, 183-186). In addition to those discussed above, several areas of research can be recommended. 1. Better understanding of the clustering of tobacco use with the use of other drugs, other risk behaviors, and other psychiatric disorders could better illuminate the causal processes involved, as well as the special features of the interventions needed to prevent and treat tobacco dependence. 2. To better understand population needs, trend analyses of prevalence, initiation, and cessation should, whenever possible, incorporate standardized measures of these other risk factors. Future research should compare the effect of socioeconomic status variables on measures of smoking behavior among racial/ethnic groups in the United States. 3. For reasons that may be genetic, environmental, or both, some persons do not progress beyond initial experimentation with tobacco use (2, 48, 183, 187-192), but about one-third to one-half of those who experiment with cigarettes become regular users (48, 193, 194). Factors, both individual and environmental, that can influence the susceptibility of individuals to tobacco dependence need further attention. 4. To estimate their sensitivity and specificity, comparisons of the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse indicators of dependence with DSM-based criteria are needed. Public health action continues to be warranted to reduce the substantial morbidity and mortality caused by tobacco use (195). A paradigm for such action has been recommended and involves preventing the onset of use, treating tobacco dependence, protecting non-smokers from exposure to secondhand smoke, promoting nonsmoking messages while limiting the effect of tobacco advertising and promotion on young people, increasing the real (inflation-adjusted) price of tobacco products, and regulating tobacco products (186).

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