Fifty Years Later, Work Remains to Curb Smoking

US Surgeon General says smoking tied to new diseases 50 years after first warning

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Fifty years ago, the US Surgeon General first warned of the dangerous effects of smoking. On the anniversary of that announcement, the current Surgeon General has released new data.

In a report released January 17, the Surgeon General noted that while progress has been made to curb smoking, more and more dangers tied to the habit have been uncovered.

According to the report, nearly 45 million Americans still smoke, and the habit is now tied to conditions like liver cancer, diabetes and problems with the immune system.

"Seek professional help if having trouble quitting smoking."

This report, released by acting Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH, and titled "The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress," estimated that over 20 million Americans have died because of smoking in the years since the 1964 Surgeon General's report — 2.5 million of whom were secondhand smokers.

Efforts to reduce cigarette use have proven successful over the years. It was estimated that in 1964, 42 percent of American adults smoked — a number which has dropped to 18 percent in the latest estimates for 2014.

And though this drop shows huge progress, Dr. Lushniak's report stressed that this 18 percent still represents a huge number of Americans — an estimated 42 million adults and 3 million middle and high school students are current smokers.

Because of the continued problem, almost half a million Americans die an early death each year from smoking and over 16 million live coping with a smoking-related disease.

As cigarettes have changed over time, including changes to chemical levels and ventilated filters, they have become more complex and more deadly in the process, the report explained. Despite the fact that today's smokers tend to smoke fewer cigarettes than the smokers of 50 years ago, they are more likely to develop lung cancer.

And though the connection between smoking and certain conditions like lung cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has been known for some time, the latest Surgeon General's report provided new information tying cigarette smoking to a number of additional diseases, like colorectal cancer, liver cancer and even strokes in nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

"The report also concludes that smoking causes diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis and immune system weakness, increased risk for tuberculosis disease and death, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and impaired fertility, cleft lip and cleft palates in babies of women who smoke during early pregnancy, erectile dysfunction, and age-related macular degeneration," noted the Surgeon General's office.

In the report's preface, Dr. Lushniak explained that a concerted effort needs to be made to help encourage smokers to quit and discourage non-smokers from ever starting, through methods like media campaigns, smokefree policies, taxes on tobacco products and reducing barriers to smoking cessation treatment programs.

"It is my sincere hope that 50 years from now we won’t need another Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, because tobacco-related disease and death will be a thing of the past," wrote Dr. Lushniak. "Working together, we can make that vision a reality."

"My foremost concern is for the innocent victims of secondhand smoke. This population represents mostly children who, against their will, are routinely exposed to over 4,000 toxic chemical compounds," said Dr. Mark Mincolla, legendary health care practitioner and author of "Whole Health: A Holistic Approach to Healing for the 21st Century" and dailyRx Contributing Expert.

"Research shows that secondhand smoke is solely responsible for some 3,000 lung cancer deaths here in the US and over 21,000 deaths worldwide. More than 50 of these poisonous chemicals have been directly identified as cancer-causing agents, including arsenic, vinyl chloride, benzene and nickel. Living with a smoker increases one's risk of lung cancer by nearly one third. The 2006 Surgeon General's Report revealed that even brief secondhand smoke exposure can lead to pulmonary damage and lung cancer," Dr. Mincolla told dailyRx News.

"To my way of thinking, our primary focus should be on protecting the innocent from the addicted. I'd like to see an even stronger movement toward smoke-free policies, higher smoking taxes, greater access to non-smoking rooms, flights and cabins, world wide," he said. "I believe we should protect the innocent victims of secondhand smoke by getting progressively tougher on smokers and smoking regulations. Protect the right to breathe!"

Review Date: 
January 17, 2014
Last Updated:
January 20, 2014