Smoking to kill 5.6 million US kids if not stubbed out: report

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON Fri Jan 17, 2014 3:19pm EST

A man smokes in an alley behind his place of work in London January 17, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

A man smokes in an alley behind his place of work in London January 17, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

Related Topics

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Another 5.6 million American children may die prematurely unless smoking rates fall in the United States, according to a report by the U.S. surgeon general which links a range of new illnesses to the habit.

Fifty years after the first surgeon general's report declared smoking a hazard to human health, the new study adds conditions ranging from colon cancer to diabetes and arthritis to the tally of tobacco-related diseases.

The report, the first in more than a decade, found that smoking has killed more than 20 million Americans prematurely in the last half century.

Although adult smoking rates have fallen to the current 18 percent from 43 percent of Americans in 1965, each day, more than 3,200 youths under the age 18 try their first cigarette, according to the report published on Friday.

"Enough is enough," acting Surgeon General Dr Boris Lushniak said in a telephone interview. "We need to eliminate the use of cigarettes and create a tobacco-free generation."

Federal health officials are calling on businesses, state and local governments, and society as a whole, to end smoking within a generation through hard-hitting media campaigns, smoke-free air policies, tobacco taxes, unhindered access to cessation treatment and more spending by state and local governments on tobacco control.

"It's not just the federal lead on this anymore," said Lushniak. "To get this done, we have to go to industry. We have to go to healthcare providers and remind them that this problem is not yet solved."

The report, dubbed The Health Consequences of Smoking, 50 Years of Progress, details the growing science showing the diseases and health conditions caused by smoking since Dr Luther Terry issued the landmark report on January 11, 1964, that first confirmed smoking tobacco caused lung cancer.

In that first report, only lung cancer was associated with smoking. Now there are 13.

"We're still a country very much addicted to tobacco," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at a White House event to mark the anniversary.

The new report adds liver and colorectal cancer to that list, but it also details several other conditions caused by smoking, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and impaired immune function, and cleft palate in infants.

And in a startling statistic, the report found that exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of stroke by 20 to 30 percent.

"It really is astonishing that even 50 years in, we are finding new ways that tobacco maims and kills people," Dr Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a telephone interview.

He said the report found that smoking costs the nation $130 billion in direct medical expenses each year.

Frieden reiterated that tobacco control efforts have saved as many as 8 million lives in the past five decades, but stressed that much more needs to be done to eliminate smoking, which remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

At the White House, officials pointed squarely at the tobacco industry continued efforts to promote their products.

"This is not an accident," Assistant Health Secretary Howard Koh said. "These deaths do not occur just by chance. Each year, the tobacco industry spends $8 billion - nearly $1 million an hour - to advertise and market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products."

As a result, Lushniak urged public health officials to take tougher action to curb tobacco use: "It's all about getting more aggressive than we have been."

Officials called on states to increase their investment in smoking prevention.

CDC's Frieden said states get $80 per capita from tobacco companies related to a major legal settlement in 1998, in which big tobacco makers agreed to pay $206 billion to 46 states to help pay the costs of treating ailing smokers.

Although CDC recommends that states spend at least $12 per person on tobacco control, states "actually only spend about $1.50, and it's been decreasing in recent years," he said.

Harold Wimmer, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association, said the new report, coming on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 report, present an opportunity for renewed political commitment to ending the tobacco epidemic.

On Wednesday, his group will release its own report grading state and federal efforts to control tobacco.

"Only a recommitment to a heightened level of action will enable us to finish the job," Wimmer said.

Last week, the group and other advocacy organizations called on political leaders to commit to cutting smoking rates to less than 10 percent of the population in a decade and to protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years.

Friday's report briefly touched on the increasingly controversial topic of electronic or e-cigarettes - devices designed to deliver nicotine through vapor instead of tobacco smoke. It noted that major tobacco companies, including Altria Group Inc, best known for its Marlboro brand; Reynolds American Inc, maker of Camel cigarettes; and Lorillard Inc, maker of Newport cigarettes, have invested in the products.

Previous studies have suggested that people can use the devices as smoking cessation tools, but some public health advocates worry that e-cigarettes might introduce more people to nicotine, the addicting chemical found in tobacco. Electronic devices that feature fruit and candy flavors are even more worrying, critics say, because they could introduce children to smoking.

And there are still questions about the safety of the vapors released by the devices. Health groups and state attorneys general have been pressuring the FDA to impose regulations on the devices.

CDC's Frieden urged caution as the industry comes up with various new products given the known dangers about tobacco.

"If we're talking about tobacco products ... they are guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around," he said at the White House. "All of these products may have an positive role is appropriately regulated but not in the way that they are being sold now with widespread marketing, over the Internet, with bubble gum and cotton candy flavors, with free samples."

Altria said in a statement that it supports the FDA's authority to regulate e-cigarettes as an extension of its power to regulate tobacco.

"Our tobacco companies continue to focus on developing lower-risk products that appeal to adult tobacco consumers and see this as an important business opportunity under FDA regulation," the company added.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago. Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington. Editing by Andre Grenon and Andrew Hay)

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
Comments (16)
Raybercon wrote:
It’s about time. I bet no one saw this coming. The “Acting” Surgeon General says…. He slipped by congressional disapproval. No one knew. The media, congress, and the talking heads all hate guns and gun owners. 2000+/- people are killed annually. They drag photos of grieving parents across the TV screen and tell total lies to the public. In Chicago which has the highest murder rates (85% is gang related) but noting is said about it. Sandy hook victims and media blame the shooting on a stupid type of weapon, the “AR” but “IT WAS LOCKED IN THE TRUNK OF HIS CAR”. The truth is not told. 200,000+ plus men, women and children were kill by tobacco the same year. Nothing was said. We the tax payers pay subsidies to tobacco growers if their crop of poison are damaged. THey have the highest profit margin in farming. Nothing is said. $130,000,000,000 is spent on tobacco related health care. Just think how that money would improve health care in the US. That’s way more then the cost of medicare. Quick fix…. send the bill to tobacco. If you smoke your heath care provider will be the tobacco industry not the tax payer. As a paramedic the majority of serious patients I transport are smokers, As an ER RN the majority of my admission for serious illness’s are smokers.
THE tobacco industry probably isn’t worried about their business in the US anyway. They have 3 BILLION new customers in CHINA.

Jan 17, 2014 1:02am EST  --  Report as abuse
arttie wrote:
I wonder if consuming alcohol might also be added to this agenda. Seems like everyone wants to come down on smokers but few want to give up drinking. A smoker is a smoker…..a drunk is a drunk.

Jan 17, 2014 1:18am EST  --  Report as abuse
Call for an end to smoking cigarettes and yet marijuana is being legalized for recreational use in several states across the US? Hypocrisy. From a medical standpoint, there may be some merit to controlled use of marijuana for chronic pain in patients, but there can be no position that it’s effect on the mental and psychological state of people is not negative – I’ve seen it’s prolonged effect on neighbours and family members as well as their offspring. The downplaying of this in the media and by US officials is pathetic.

Jan 17, 2014 3:03am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.