Eight million lives saved since U.S. alarm on smoking 50 years ago

NEW YORK Tue Jan 7, 2014 6:03pm EST

A man sends text messages on his mobile phone as he smokes a cigarette outside the court building in San Diego, California December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A man sends text messages on his mobile phone as he smokes a cigarette outside the court building in San Diego, California December 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

Related Topics

Photo

Obama at the bar

Obama shares drinks and shoots pool during a stopover in Denver.  Slideshow 

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More than half of American men and over a third of women were smokers on January 11, 1964, when Dr. Luther Terry delivered the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health outlining the links between tobacco use, lung cancer and death.

Fifty years later, smoking rates have been cut by about half, and a new study estimates that 8 million Americans have been saved from premature smoking-related deaths.

"You look back in history to 1964, and in reality the world was a very different place when it came to tobacco use and smoking," said Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, the acting U.S. Surgeon General.

A collection of reports released online on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlights how public-health efforts, from cigarette taxes to advertising limits, have helped curtail smoking rates. The reports also identify new trouble spots, including communities whose members have not been able to quit in significant numbers.

Lushniak believes the next step should be a resolve to introduce an endgame within the next 50 years. That concept will be part of an upcoming Surgeon General's report on January 16 celebrating the anniversary of the original, he said.

"The next stage really needs to be a resolution to move ahead to this smoke-free generation concept," Lushniak said.

One paper estimates that about 17.7 million deaths from 1964 to 2012 were related to smoking. Without any of the tobacco control measures introduced in that period, an additional 8 million people would have died, according to Theodore Holford of the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, and colleagues.

The average American lifespan is also more than two years longer because those deaths have been averted, the researchers suggest.

"TREMENDOUS ACCELERATION"

Although Terry's 1964 report was not the first scientific review to connect cigarettes and health issues, it is widely considered a turning point in the battle against smoking.

"The announcement gave tremendous acceleration to the study of cigarettes and health," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, told Reuters Health.

Terry gathered 10 doctors, pathologists, chemists, statisticians and other experts to review the available evidence.

Because the tobacco industry in those days was so important to the U.S. economy, Brawley said, the announcement was made on a Saturday to lessen any impact on the stock market.

The committee's conclusion was that smoking causes lung cancer in men and that men who smoke are more likely to die of heart disease than those who don't.

Based on research since then, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there is a two- to four-fold increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke for smokers. The CDC also estimates that smoking increases the risk of lung cancer 13 times among women and 23 times among men.

The U.S. is not alone in lowering smoking rates over the past few decades, another new study found.

Researchers from the University of Washington found that Canada, Mexico, Iceland and Norway cut the proportion of their populations that smoke by more than half from 1980 to 2012.

Worldwide, however, the slowdown is weaker, said Dr. Christopher Murray, one of the study's authors.

Data from 187 countries shows that about 41 percent of men and 11 percent of women worldwide smoked in 1980, and those rates have since declined to about 31 percent for men and 6 percent for women in 2012.

The actual number of smokers, however, rose from an estimated 721 million in 1980 to 967 million in 2012 as the world's population grew.

TROUBLE SPOTS

One approach to cutting the smoking rate involves targeting groups that are more likely to use tobacco.

People with mental illnesses, for example - including depression and anxiety disorders - had a slower decline in smoking rates, another report says.

Benjamin Cook, the report's lead author and a senior scientist at the Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts, and colleagues write that people with mental illness historically smoke at twice the rate of people without mental illnesses.

"If you were able to decrease those rates of smoking among people with mental illness, then you can really make a dent in national rates," he said.

The JAMA reports did not pinpoint what have been the most effective measures to induce people to quit smoking. But public health advocates say the combination of tobacco taxes, smoke-free air laws, youth education campaigns and adequately funding state tobacco and anti-smoking programs has made a difference over time.

"I think we know what prevents people from continuing to smoke or not smoke at all," said Dr. Mariell Jessup, president of the American Heart Association.

Persistent efforts to keep children from smoking are also key, Brawley added.

"Very few smokers - less than 10 percent - start smoking as adults," he said. "We really need to focus on keeping kids from smoking."

Brawley and Jessup said attention needs to be paid to electronic cigarettes - also known as e-cigarettes - which are electronic devices that deliver nicotine through vapor instead of tobacco smoke.

Previous studies have suggested that people can use the devices as smoking cessation tools, but some public health advocates worry that e-cigarettes may introduce more people to nicotine, the addicting chemical found in tobacco.

"E-cigarettes can be a very bad thing, can be a very good thing, and it can actually be both," Brawley said. "We need to figure that out."

(Editing by Nancy Lapid, Michele Gershberg and Douglas Royalty)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (5)
Naksuthin wrote:
American corporations lied in order to keep Amerocans hooked on cigarettes. They lied because cigarettes were big moneymakers and even though they knew their product was killing Americans they continued to lie…even in front of Congress.

Thanks to our government Americans are aware that cigarettes are both addictive and deadly. Tobacco companies can no longer pretend that their product are “good for you”

Today Americans live in an almost smoke free environment where those who still choose to smoke must pay a high price for their stupidity and must confine their bad habit to places where it can only harm themselves.

Jan 07, 2014 6:34pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Naksuthin wrote:
American corporations lied in order to keep Amerocans hooked on cigarettes. They lied because cigarettes were big moneymakers and even though they knew their product was killing Americans they continued to lie…even in front of Congress.

Thanks to our government Americans are aware that cigarettes are both addictive and deadly. Tobacco companies can no longer pretend that their product are “good for you”

Today Americans live in an almost smoke free environment where those who still choose to smoke must pay a high price for their stupidity and must confine their bad habit to places where it can only harm themselves.

Jan 07, 2014 6:34pm EST  --  Report as abuse
crunchy wrote:
What did I learn about ‘e-cigarettes’ last year… I learned the toxicologist back in 1906 made a dubious finding on the LD50 level of nicotine. From poisoning cases since, it appears to be ten times safer.

I learned there are a lot of people that want American ingredients in their e-liquid. Mainland China doesn’t have a very good reputation when it comes to consumable chemicals. I learned there are only five ingredients to e-liquids. All ingredients are GRAS(generally regarded as safe) except nicotine. The FDA should hurry and start studying combustion products of flavorings or turn this over to the USDA. It properly belongs with the USDA as they handle food items.

I learned the functional nicotine delivery systems are known as Mods. And in 2013, battery regulation was introduced and is reliable. I learned an ‘e-cigarette’ is a plastic stick you buy and put in a drawer. It is very difficult to get any nicotine effect out of a Chinese ‘e-cigarette.’

Jan 07, 2014 7:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.