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Health Care

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.

(ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

photo of Clara Ritger
January 17, 2014

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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