The tobacco fight is far from over, even though there have been great strides made within the past five decades. It was this week 50 years ago when the first Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and health was released.
“Smokers today have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than they did when the first Surgeon General’s report was released in 1964, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes,” said Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H. in an agency press release.
Over the last 50 years, more than 20 million Americans have died from smoking.
The new report concludes that cigarette smoking kills nearly half a million Americans a year, with an additional 16 million suffering from smoking-related conditions.
It puts the price tag of smoking at more than $289 billion a year in direct medical care and other economic costs.
“How cigarettes are made and the chemicals they contain have changed over the years, and some of those changes may be a factor in higher lung cancer risks. Of all forms of tobacco, cigarettes are the most deadly and cause medical and financial burdens for millions of Americans,” said Lushniak.
Approximately 5.6 million American children or one out of every 13 children under age 18 will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases unless current smoking rates drop, according to the new report.
“Today, we’re asking Americans to join a sustained effort to make the next generation a tobacco-free generation,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in an agency press release.
Twenty years ago male smokers were about twice as likely as female smokers to die early from smoking-related disease.
The new report found women are now dying at rates as high as men from many of these diseases, including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart disease. The death from COPD is now greater in women than in men.
“This is not something the federal government can do alone. We need to partner with the business community, local elected officials, schools and universities, the medical community, the faith community, and committed citizens in communities across the country to make the next generation tobacco free,” said Sebelius.
The new report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, comes a half century after the historic 1964 Surgeon General’s report, which concluded that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer.
Researchers have now added diabetes, colorectal and liver cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, age-related macular degeneration, and other conditions to the list of diseases that cigarette smoking causes.
In addition, the report concluded secondhand smoke exposure is now known to cause strokes in nonsmokers.
“Over the last 50 years tobacco control efforts have saved 8 million lives but the job is far from over,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H. in an agency press release.
Youth smoking rates declined by half between 1997 and 2011, however, each day another 3,200 children under age 18 smoke their first cigarette.
Also another 2,100 youth and young adults become daily smokers, according to the report.
To give a little perspective, every adult who dies prematurely from smoking is replaced by two youth and young adult smokers.
The report concluded the tobacco industry started and sustained this epidemic using aggressive marketing strategies to deliberately mislead the public about the harms of smoking.
“This report provides the impetus to accelerate public health and clinical strategies to drop overall smoking rates to less than 10% in the next decade. Our nation is now at a crossroads, and we must choose to end the tobacco epidemic once and for all,” said Howard.