The landscape for public health drastically changed 50 years ago thanks to the Surgeon General’s first report on smoking and health. January 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the landmark report, which was the first to definitively link smoking with lung cancer and heart disease.
In the 1964 report, Dr. Luther Terry, the 9th U.S. Surgeon General, reported for the very first time that smoking causes lung cancer in men and was a likely cause of lung cancer in women. It was also reported that smoking was likely the cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, known today as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Remarkable progress has been made since the release of this crucial report. It alerted the nation to the health risks related to smoking and helped shape a number of well-known interventions such as cigarette warning labels and bans on television ads for tobacco products. Most importantly, it has fueled a movement that has significantly shifted the nation's attitude on tobacco use and transformed the issue from one of individual and consumer choice to one of epidemiology, public health, and risk for smokers and non-smokers alike.
The percentage of Americans who smoke has been reduced by half since the release of the report. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) just last week estimated that tobacco control measures adopted in the last 50 years have saved eight million Americans from premature death and extended their lives by an average of almost 20 years. In addition, a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the rates of new lung cancer cases are dropping with the fastest drop in adults aged 35-44 years.
This is good news for all of us who have been working to minimize the negative health effects of tobacco and secondhand smoke in our communities. Yet there is still work to be done. Despite these gains, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States, with a heavier death and disease burden for certain vulnerable populations. According to the CDC, nearly 44 million American adults are still smoking, and more than eight million Americans currently live with at least one serious chronic disease from smoking. And, although millions of lives have been saved as a result of findings such as those in Surgeon General’s reports, the JAMA study states that almost 18 million people have died over the last 50 years because of tobacco use, and millions more have suffered from diseases caused by tobacco. As mentioned in the CDC’s Fast Facts on Smoking and Tobacco Use, more than 440,000 Americans die annually from smoking.
Tobacco use is a financial burden on our nation as well. A separate CDC study found that smoking-related medical costs add up to nearly $96 billion a year, with an additional $97 billion lost in productivity because of illness.
On Wednesday, January 8, 2014, several health organizations, including the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called for a new national commitment to support the following goals:
- Decrease smoking among adults down to less than 10 percent over the next decade;
- Protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years by having every state enact laws against smoking in all workplaces, bars and restaurants; and
- Ultimately eliminate death and disease caused by tobacco.
This Thursday, the Surgeon General will release the 50th anniversary Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and health. The report will highlight 50 years of progress in tobacco control and prevention, present new data on the health consequences of tobacco use, and detail initiatives that can end the tobacco use epidemic in the U.S. Visit the Surgeon General’s website to view the new report or to access previous reports.
Jefferson County Public Health continues to work toward reducing the toll of tobacco in our communities through sustainable solutions to the problem of tobacco use and exposure. To learn more about current initiatives and how to get involved, please visit www.tobaccofreejeffco.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 303-275-7555.