Antismoking policies have saved more than 8 million lives in the 50 years since a landmark surgeon general's report connecting smoking to cancer and other diseases, according to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The 1964 report from Surgeon General Luther Terry catapulted efforts to stop smoking by antitobacco organizations, including higher tobacco taxes, nonsmoking spaces, and public funding for programs aimed at helping smokers quit.
Since then, the smoking rate has been cut by 58 percent, and the initiatives have increased life expectancy by more than 2 years for men and more than 1.5 for women.
Now, public-health and antismoking groups are pivoting off the anniversary to push for more stringent regulations.
"We now know that this first report of the surgeon general dramatically understated the effects of smoking," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. "We cannot and will not claim victory until every child in the United States is tobacco free and we will not wait another 50 years to accomplish that goal."
The smoking rate currently sits at 18 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the groups hope to bring it below 10 percent in the next decade.
"The tobacco industry remains a huge obstacle in our efforts to pass good, smoke-free laws, to increase excise taxes, to secure full funding for tobacco cessation and prevention programs, and to increase regulation of tobacco-related products, such as e-cigarettes," said Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.
Roughly 44 million adults and 3.6 million children smoke in the United States, CDC says. Smoking is related to one of every five deaths in the country, amounting to more than 17.7 million deaths between 1964 and 2012, according to JAMA. People who smoke are two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease, the American Heart Association says, and twice as likely to suffer a stroke. Smoking accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society, and 87 percent of all lung-cancer deaths.
Still, half the population does not live in areas of the country with smoke-free laws in workplaces, restaurants, and bars, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, and CDC says smoking costs the U.S. roughly $193 billion annually in health care expenditures and lost productivity.
To reach their goal, the organizations are calling on the president and Congress to grant the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars, and establish a comprehensive cessation benefit through the Affordable Care Act, which would allow covered Americans access to all forms of counseling, a quit line, and seven FDA-approved medications without barriers or restrictions for smokers who have made previous attempts to quit.
They also want to see packs of cigarettes carry a graphic warning label and a higher excise tax, which averages $1.53 in states and an additional $1.01 on the federal level.
More-stringent smoking laws are popping up throughout the country, with Hawaii and New York City adopting measures to raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21, a move which will help keep cigarettes out of the hands of high school students, the organizations said.
Such restrictions are helping the U.S. and other wealthy countries, but those public-health measures are outpaced by a rise in the number of smokers in the developing world, another JAMA study reports. The University of Washington has found the total adult smoking population to have increased to over 1 billion in 2012 from 721 million in 1980. Total cigarettes smoked has topped 6.25 trillion, up from 5 trillion, in that same period. While global smoking rates have decreased to 18.7 percent from 26 percent due to worldwide population growth, the rise in numbers signal a persistent presence of the tobacco industry.
New products—such as e-cigarettes—are gaining popularity with some who say they are better for public health. But the antitobacco organizations weren't ready to give the green light to the development.
"Whatever potential e-cigarettes have to reduce the death and disease caused by smoking needs to be heavily regulated by the FDA," Myers said.
Hallett added that some smoke-free environments allow e-cigarettes, a practice Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights does not condone because of the vapors released by the product and the lack of evidence and scientific results about their safety.
This article appears in the January 9, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.