Your Risk of Developing Cancer From Smoking Is Higher Today Than 50 Years Ago

The tobacco industry is more aggressive about cigarette manufacturing, a new surgeon general report concludes.

A man smokes a cigarette on September 6, 2012 in Paris.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
Jan. 17, 2014, 4:58 a.m.

Smoking has killed 10 times the num­ber of Amer­ic­ans who have died in all of the na­tion’s wars com­bined, wrote Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us in a re­port re­leased Fri­day.

Each day, 2,100 young adults who are oc­ca­sion­al smokers make it a daily habit. The new sur­geon gen­er­al re­port says 5.6 mil­lion chil­dren un­der the age of 18 who are alive today will die pre­ma­turely un­less U.S. smoking rates drop.

Some 443,000 Amer­ic­ans die from smoking-re­lated causes each year. The U.S. has more than halved smoking rates since the land­mark re­port from Sur­geon Gen­er­al Luth­er Terry was re­leased 50 years ago, the first re­port to con­nect smoking with lung can­cer. Today, smoking is tied to throat can­cer and kid­ney and heart dis­ease, and the 2014 re­port adds dia­betes, colorectal and liv­er can­cer, rheum­at­oid arth­rit­is, erectile dys­func­tion, and age-re­lated mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion to the grow­ing list of smoking-re­lated dis­eases.

“Smokers today have a great­er risk of de­vel­op­ing lung can­cer than they did when the first sur­geon gen­er­al’s re­port was re­leased in 1964, even though they smoke few­er ci­gar­ettes,” said Act­ing Sur­geon Gen­er­al Bor­is Lush­niak in a press re­lease. “How ci­gar­ettes are made and the chem­ic­als they con­tain have changed over the years, and some of those changes may be a factor in high­er lung-can­cer risks.”

Pub­lic-health meas­ures en­acted in the years fol­low­ing the his­tor­ic sur­geon gen­er­al re­port have saved more than 8 mil­lion lives. The U.S. has stead­ily in­creased the to­bacco taxes at the state and fed­er­al level to dis­in­centiv­ize new smokers and slow the num­ber of ci­gar­ettes con­sumed. The Af­ford­able Care Act re­quires most health in­sur­ance plans to cov­er smoking-ces­sa­tion ser­vices and in­creases fund­ing for pub­lic-edu­ca­tion ini­ti­at­ives. Anti-to­bacco groups con­tin­ue to pur­sue great­er reg­u­la­tion of the to­bacco in­dustry by the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and smoke-free health laws have re­duced ex­pos­ure to second-hand smoke na­tion­wide.

But the U.S. spends more than $289 bil­lion an­nu­ally in med­ic­al care and lost pro­ductiv­ity as a res­ult of smoking.

The re­port says the to­bacco in­dustry “star­ted and sus­tained this epi­dem­ic us­ing ag­gress­ive mar­ket­ing strategies to de­lib­er­ately mis­lead the pub­lic about the harms of smoking,” a find­ing which has been up­held in a fed­er­al court. In­dustry-wide changes to ci­gar­ette design to en­hance the de­liv­ery of to­bacco have heightened the risk of can­cer, the re­port adds.

The full re­port is avail­able here.

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