Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why are questions on tobacco asked in the NHIS?

Tobacco use is a risk behavior that contributes to several major diseases, including lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and asthma, among others. Research on the correlates of smoking behavior can help policy makers devise better smoking prevention and cessation programs.

2. Why have the tobacco variables changed on the public use data files over the years?

The first supplemental questionnaire on “smoking habits” appeared on the 1965 NHIS. Smoking prevalence and theories of behavioral change have advanced since then. As the questions changed, the variables have also changed. A smoking section was added to the NHIS core as part of a major questionnaire redesign for the 1997 data collection year. Since then, the core smoking variables have remained relatively consistent, although additions are made for periodic tobacco use supplements.

3. Where can I find information on using the tobacco data in each of the NHIS data years?

The Guide for Data Users provides links to the questionnaires, datasets, documentation and programming code for each NHIS dataset that contains tobacco-related information. Smoking status recodes are provided separately.

4. Will there be changes to the NHIS tobacco questions?

The National Health interview Survey questionnaires will undergo a major redesign in 2019 and changes to the adult tobacco questions are expected. For current information about the redesign, visit the NHIS 2019 Redesign home page.

Supplemental questions on tobacco are added to the NHIS questionnaire periodically, as special topic supplements. For information on NHIS supplements, see: NHIS Supplements and Co-Sponsors, Datasets and Related Documentation 1969-1996 and Questionnaires and Related Documentation (1997-present).

5. I’m having trouble downloading data files for 2005 and earlier. Is there something wrong with the data?

No. The problem likely is due to using a 64-bit Microsoft operating system. NHIS Public Use data sets from 1970-2005 with the .exe file type are unable to be extracted on 64-bit computers running Microsoft operating systems. Data users are advised to rename the .exe files as .zip files and the data sets will extract correctly. This workaround is suggested for data years 1970-2005. For years 2006-2009, the .exe files do extract correctly. Beginning in 2010, NHIS data files are released as .zip files.

6. How can I get more information?

For further information, you may contact:
Division of Health Interview Statistics
(301) 458-4901 or

Data Inquiries
National Center for Health Statistics
3311 Toledo Road
Hyattsville, MD 20782
(301) 458-4000 or toll free 1-800-232-4636