In 1964, more than 42 percent of the U.S. population smoked. Now, it’s 18 percent, a dramatic decrease since the U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark report on smoking.
Consider the way things were in 1964.
- More than 42 percent of the U.S. population smoked.
- Anyone could buy tobacco products.
- Cigarette ads were all over television and billboards.
- You could smoke on planes, in restaurants, and where you worked.
- And if you smoked, you had company—celebrities, athletes, even your doctor.
Then, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report on smoking that definitely linked smoking to cancer and chronic bronchitis and probably to numerous other illnesses—among them heart disease, emphysema, and other cancers. And he said the government should do something about it.
It was the start of a dramatic change in the way Americans view tobacco products—and in their behavior. Today, 18 percent of the U.S. population smokes. Since the report was published, anti-tobacco efforts have saved 8 million lives.
The turnaround is a remarkable achievement, but in looking back to celebrate the success, we must also look to the future and how much more work has to be done.
Since 1964, we’ve learned more about smoking’s disastrous and deadly effects:
- Tobacco use is linked to virtually harmful effects on every part of the body, including developing fetuses.
- It’s responsible for 14 cancers, stroke, and diabetes.
- It remains the leading preventable cause of premature death in the United States.
- It kills even more Americans than previous estimates—about 480,000 a year, up from 443,000.
- It costs $333 billion a year for medical care and lost productivity, far above the $193 million previous estimate.
- Exposure to second-hand smoke has been newly identified as a cause of strokes.
- And smokers today have a much higher risk for lung cancer and obstructive pulmonary disease than smokers 50 years ago, despite smoking fewer cigarettes, because of changes in the design and composition of cigarettes.
Most concerning about current smoking trends is the rise of the habit among youth and young adults, according to the latest Surgeon General’s report. The number of smokers in that age group have risen from 1.9 million in 2002 to 2.3 million in 2012.
And new on the scene since the first Surgeon General’s report are e-cigarettes, an alternative delivery device of tobacco chemicals that’s not well understood or regulated and is raising concern in the medical community and organizations that have fought lung cancer.
So, while we have reason to be more than satisfied with the progress that’s been made in saving people’s lives and to honor Dr. Luther Terry, the surgeon general who released the report, we know that we can’t stop here. We can’t stop until we can see the day when a generation of Americans will be smoke-free.
We can help you quit smoking
The good news is that if you’re a smoker or know a smoker, getting help to kick the habit is readily available. Smoking cessation aids, such as lozenges and gum, are available over the counter or our doctor can prescribe treatment methods.
Lancaster General Health also offers a full lineup of programs. Participate in group classes or sign up for individual counseling to see how you can develop a personalized quit plan. There’s even web-based video-chat counseling you can engage in from the comfort of your own home.
For information, call 1-888-LGH-INFO (544-4636), or click on any of the programs listed on our Tobacco Free Living website.
Jennifer M. Worth, M.D., has a special interest in minimally invasive thoracic surgery and benign and malignant lung and esophageal disease. A graduate of Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, she was chief resident in general surgery at the University of Nebraska and chief fellow in cardiothoracic surgery at The Ohio State University.