Saving Thousands of Butts

Lung cancer deaths prevented with tobacco control initiatives

(RxWiki News) Cigarette tobacco slowly maims and kills. That message is getting through, unfiltered, loud and clear. The result is that thousands of lives have been saved.

A number of factors have worked together to prevent an estimated 800,000 lung cancer deaths over a 25-year period - 1975-2000. U.S. tobacco-control activities are largely credited with this feat.

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Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center led six research groups in the U.S. and the Netherlands to glean these findings.

The team's comprehensive study involved reconstructing the smoking histories of people born between 1890 and 1970 and using mathematical equations to estimate how changes in smoking patterns impacted lung cancer deaths.

Lead author, Suresh H. Moolgavkar, M.D., Ph.D., an epidemiologist, biostatistician and mathematical modeler in the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division, says this is a first-of-its-kind study looking at smoking behaviors and lung cancer mortality.

Dr. Moolgavkar specializes in designing formulas and computer programs that helps predict biological outcomes.

A variety of methods have been used to control the use of tobacco in the U.S., starting in the mid-1960s. A number of these interventions were put into place after the landmark U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was released in 1964.

These activities have ranged from restricting smoking in public places, increasing cigarette taxes, limiting underage access to tobacco products and concentrated messaging programs to increase public awareness about the dangers of smoking.

In an interesting exercise, the scientists created two scenarios:

  • If all smoking had ended in 1964, an estimated 2.5 million lives would have been saved.
  • On the contrary, had there been no anti-smoking interventions, roughly 800,000 would have died.

Discussing what he calls "a compelling illustration of the the devastating impact of tobacco use" and "the enormous benefits of reducing rates of smoking,” Robert Croyle, Ph.D., director of the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, said there's no time for complacency.

“Although great strides have been made, we cannot relax our efforts. The prevention and cessation of tobacco use continue to be vital priorities for the medical, scientific and public health communities,” Croyle said.

This study was funded by the NCI and published online March 14, 2012 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Review Date: 
March 14, 2012