Cigarette marketing once relied heavily on so called "expert opinion" from physicians about the benefits of smoking. But 50 years ago this month, the U.S. Surgeon General started requiring warnings on cigarettes that outlined the true health effects. Since that warning was implemented smoking has declined significantly, but smoking still remains a serious health threat to many people.
Today, the U.S. Surgeon General's office released its latest report on smoking and health. The report, which marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General's warning on cigarette smoking on Jan. 11, 1964, finds that we've made progress in reducing the number of American's who smoke, but there is still more to do.
According to the latest report, only about 18 percent of all adults smoke compared to 42 percent in 1964. But the report said the government may not meet its goal of dropping that rate to 12 percent by 2020.
The Surgeon General's office says that nearly half a million people will die from smoking-related diseases this year. The biggest concern is the power smoking still holds over youth in America. Each day, more than 3,200 youths smoke their first cigarette. New products such as e-cigarettes, with effects that aren't yet understood, complicate public health messages.
The Surgeon General warned that if current trends continue unabated, 5.6 million of today's children and teens will go on to die prematurely during adulthood because of smoking. Although youth smoking rates declined by half between 1997 and 2011, each day another 3,200 children under age 18 smoke their first cigarette, and another 2,100 youth and young adults become daily smokers. Every adult who dies prematurely from smoking is replaced by two youth and young adult smokers.
Today’s 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. Since that time, smoking has been identified as a cause of serious diseases of nearly all the body’s organs. Today, scientists add 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 concludes that secondhand smoke exposure is now known to cause strokes in nonsmokers.
“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. “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.”
Twenty years ago male smokers were about twice as likely as female smokers to die early from smoking-related disease. The new report finds that 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. In fact, death from COPD is now greater in women than in men.
“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. “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.”
Although youth smoking rates declined by half between 1997 and 2011, each day another 3,200 children under age 18 smoke their first cigarette, and another 2,100 youth and young adults become daily smokers. Every adult who dies prematurely from smoking is replaced by two youth and young adult smokers.
The report concludes that the tobacco industry started and sustained this epidemic using aggressive marketing strategies to deliberately mislead the public about the harms of smoking. The evidence in the report emphasizes the need to accelerate and sustain successful tobacco control efforts that have been underway for decades.
For the full report, executive summary, consumer guide and PSA, visit http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/50-years-of-progress/index.html.
Ken Dey served as Public Relations Coordinator at St. Luke's from 2008-2014.