Fifty years ago, the First Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health dropped a bombshell on American consumers revealing that smoking causes cancer. In January of 1964, 42% of Americans smoked and smoking was considered a widely accepted behavior. Watching an episode of Mad Men reminds us of how accepted smoking once was in boardrooms, restaurants, airplanes and bedrooms across the country. Today it is widely accepted that smoking is dangerous. Health experts are beginning to label sugar the new tobacco, a toxic and addictive substance that is wildly popular, accepted by the public, and heavily endorsed by private industry advertising. Sadly, the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health is not a summary of our victory over the war on tobacco. It reveals that tobacco remains the new tobacco. Smoking remains the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. If smoking continues at current rates, at least 5.6 million of our nation’s children will die from smoking-related disease.
The 2014 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health may not be a smoking gun like the 1964 report but it has a clear message: smoking is far worse than we realized. Even after 50 years of research and after 20 million Americans have prematurely died as a result of smoking, research continues to add to the long list of diseases caused by smoking. Along with lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, we now know that smoking also causes type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, macular degeneration and erectile dysfunction. Today 42 million adults and 3.5 million teenagers continue to smoke. In the next year, nearly half a million people will die from smoking -related disease.
In January 2014, the fourth of six Marlboro Men died from smoking related disease. Eric Lawson, passed away fat age 72 from respiratory failure due to COPD. Each year, for every adult who dies prematurely from a smoking-related cause, two or more youths or young adults become replacement smokers. Most smokers begin smoking before age 18 and nearly all start smoking by age 26. Each year, the tobacco industry spends $28 per person on advertising that lure youths and young adults to start smoking. Their nicotine addiction keeps them smoking into adulthood.
Tobacco prevention has been one of the great public health successes of the 20th century. Eight million premature deaths have been prevented through smoking prevention efforts. Today, there are half as many American smokers as there were 50 years ago. The government’s Health People 2020 goal is to decrease our current rate of smokers from 18% to 12% over the next five years. The CDC currently recommends that states spend $12 per person to fund successful tobacco prevention programs, which is not even half as much as the tobacco industry spends per person. States currently spend less than $1.50 per person on prevention. Tobacco prevention is not a simple task. The best way to prevent future disease is to prevent youths from ever starting to smoking. We need to protect our children, non-smokers, and help smokers quit. The war against tobacco rages on.
1. U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services. The Health Consequence of Smoking- 50 Years of Progress: A Report of The Surgeon General Executive Summary. 2014 U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services. Office of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD. p.15.