Photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute and photographer Bill Branson.
Are We Winning the Battle Against Tobacco?
Smoking has dropped by more than half since the Surgeon General’s 1964 report first warned of its health hazards, launching the anti-tobacco movement in the United States. According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s report, cigarette smoking among adults has declined from 42 percent in 1965 to 18 percent in 2012.
California has led the charge on tobacco control programs. John P. Pierce, PhD, UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center director for population sciences, was among the first to document the role of statewide tobacco control programs in changing social norms and reducing smoking behavior – and reducing the incidence of lung cancer. His 1992 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) paper on secondhand smoke exposure led to the first statewide law requiring smoke-free workplaces in California, and his work is cited as a major reason for the marketing restrictions in the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the state Attorney’s General and the Tobacco Industry.
According to a study published in the Jan. 8 issue of the JAMA by Yale University researchers, 8 million deaths have been avoided since the landmark 1964 report was released. Nonetheless, the study found that 17.7 million deaths were linked to smoking between 1964 and 2012.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), tobacco use remains the single-largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in this country. It costs our nation $193 billion in health costs and productivity loss.
The Surgeon General’s report makes a connection that people today may overlook. Smoking doesn’t cause just lung cancer, it impacts nearly every organ in the body. Carcinogens in tobacco can cause cancer of the throat, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, trachea, bronchus, stomach, colon, pancreas, cervix, lips and mouth. It can also lead to blindness, heart disease, asthma, infertility, impotence, early menopause and impairment of senses like smell and taste. Smoking is like playing Russian roulette with your health.
Smokers also risk the health of others. According to this year’s Surgeon General’s report, 2.5 million nonsmokers died from heart disease or lung cancer through secondhand smoke since 1964. An estimated 100,000 babies died of sudden infant death syndrome or other health conditions linked to parental smoking.
“While we have made tremendous progress over the past 50 years, sustained and comprehensive efforts are needed to prevent more people from having to suffer the pain, disability, disfigurement, and death that smoking causes,” wrote Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report says that smoking has “killed 10 times the number of Americans who died in all of our nation’s wars combined.” Tobacco control programs have reduced the smoking epidemic, but more needs to be done. The report suggests more anti-smoking media campaigns, raising cigarette taxes, providing barrier-free cessation programs, making indoor spaces throughout the country smoke-free and increasing tobacco control and prevention research efforts.