Fifty years have come and gone since the first official Surgeon General’s report on tobacco use. Last week, Dr. Boris Lushniak issued the 32nd report as acting Surgeon General complete with updated information on tobacco risks and a call to end smoking related deaths for good.
A lot has changed since that first report was published in 1964. Over the course of fifty years, we have discovered that smoking can do much more than cause lung cancer. Dr. Luther Terry first shocked the country in the initial report by telling American smokers to stop puffing or risk death. At that time, 42 percent of adults were smokers. Today, only 18 percent are still smoking, but we have seen more than 20 million deaths related to tobacco use since 1964. There is still a grave danger ot the general public with 45 million people smoking and 3 million of those individuals being under age 18.
Dr. Lushniak reported that one third of cancer cases are now caused by tobacco with around 480,000 deaths per year coming from smoking-related causes. The report claims that 87 percent of lung cancer fatalities have been linked to smoking or secondhand exposure. However, the most deadly risk is heart disease and it is the leading cause of death among smokers age 35 and older. The report also stated that women are just as likely to experience smoking related diseases and death as men.
The 32nd report was also packed with new discoveries about the impact of cigarette use. So far, there have been 13 forms of cancer definitively linked to smoking including liver and colon cancer. There is also a major risk for stroke among people exposed to secondhand smoke. In fact, just being around someone puffing on a cigarette can increase your chances of suffering a stroke by 20 to 30 percent.
Research has also discovered that smoking can increase chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes by 30 to 40 percent. Cigarette use can also result in painful rheumatoid arthritis, ectopic pregnancy, macular degeneration, erectile dysfunction, and impaired immune function. Women that smoke during pregnancy also increase the risk of their babies having a cleft lip or palate. Out of all of the smoking risks, children may pay the highest price. The report estimates that 5.6 million of today’s kids will die prematurely from smoking related causes. That means 1 out 13 children will die too soon if we don’t do something to stop tobacco dangers.
Lushniak reports that the tools to end smoking related disease and death are already available. He proposed continued anti-smoking media campaigns and higher prices on cigarettes. He also believes it is crucial to institute smoke-free laws across the country. “It’s embarrassing in this country only half our population is covered by those laws,” he said.
In order to continue fighting back against tobacco related deaths, Lushniak insists that the FDA has to stay actively involved in regulations. He also backs the CDC’s recommendation to take $12 from individual tax payers to create a fund to reduce smoking rates. “Right now, only just over a buck-fifty is spent per person,” he said. The report also called for local organizations like businesses, non-profits, and nongovernment institutions to get involved in the fight.
Electronic cigarettes were not left out of the report, but the statements were vague in this area. Lushniak did not endorse e-cigs as a safe alternative, but said there was a definite need for more research. “Further research and attention to the consequences as well as regulatory measures will be necessary to fully address these questions,” said Lushniak. “The promotion of electronic cigarettes and other innovative tobacco products is much more likely to be beneficial in an environment where the appeal, accessibility, promotion, and use of cigarettes are being rapidly reduced.”
Ultimately, the report called for continued change in order to fight against the dangers of tobacco use. “It is my sincere hope that 50 years from now we won’t need another (surgeon general’s) report on smoking and health, because tobacco-related disease and death will be a thing of the past,” he said.
How do you think society will change in regards to tobacco use over the next fifty years? Will people still be lighting up in 2064?