Tobacco Control Groups Mark 50th Anniversary of Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking

Several major tobacco control advocacy groups held a joint press conference in Washington, DC yesterday to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on Smoking and Health and issue a call to action in the U.S. to further reduce smoking rates and exposure to second hand smoke.

The groups included the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Legacy, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung and American Heart Associations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Americans for Non Smokers’ Rights, which is based in Berkeley, California.

The 1964 Surgeon General’s report marked the first time that a compilation of research was released that linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer. Subsequent Surgeon General reports have looked at the impact of smoking on other health issues including heart disease and other lung diseases.  Effective tobacco control efforts have included warning messages on cigarette packs, new quit smoking techniques including medications and nicotine replacement products and an increasing number of smoke free air laws that prohibit smoking in many public spaces and workplaces. Those measures and others, according to speakers at today’s news conference have resulted in smoking rates dropping precipitously from fifty percent of adults smoking in 1964 to about eighteen percent last year.

“Berkeley California passed the first law prohibiting smoking in restaurants,” according to Cynthia Hallett, director of the Berkeley, Calif., based Americans for Non Smokers Rights who spoke at today’s news conference. But Hallett noted that although many workplaces now prohibit tobacco use, “smoking is permitted in casinos, which are among the fastest growing workplaces in the U.S.”

Several speakers at the news conference made note of a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that estimated that tobacco control efforts in the U.S. since 1964 has been associated with the prevention of 8 million premature smoking-attributable deaths and with a gain of about twenty extra years of  life for the millions who stopped smoking. However the study authors also noted that “…no other behavior comes close to contributing so heavily to the nation’s mortality burden. Tobacco control has been a great public health success story but requires continued efforts to eliminate tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.”

The actions recommended today by the tobacco control groups to further reduce deaths and disease caused by smoking include:

  • Reducing smoking rated to less than ten percent within ten years
  • Protecting all Americans from second hand smoke within five years through smoke free laws
  • Ultimately eliminate death and disease caused by tobacco use.

In response to a reporter’s question, Kenneth Warner, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and a coauthor of the JAMA study on the reduction of smoking rates since 1964, said one group that has not seen smoking rates drop sufficiently are those with mental illness where rates can be as high as 40 percent according to some studies. Warner cited the work of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center based at UCSF as a model for efforts to reduce smoking among people with mental illness.

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