Since First Surgeon General Report On Tobacco Products 50 Years Ago, Tighter Government Regulations Have Saved Countless American Lives

Gerard LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

The first Surgeon General’s Report about smoking and its health risks was issued in 1964. This year marks its 50th anniversary. Since then, much progress has been made, with the number of adults smoking being cut by half. However, the use of tobacco products is still the number one cause of disabilities and death in the country.

According to a study published January 7, 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the 1964 report by the Surgeon General that featured tobacco’s effect on health, as well as tobacco control, has helped eight million people extended their lives 20 years.

David T. Levy, PhD, from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the senior author of the study says, “The report and subsequent tobacco control efforts represent the most dramatic and successful public health campaign in modern history, in terms of benefit to the entire population.”

He added, “In 1964, more than 40 percent Americans [sic] adults smoked, and now, 50 years later, less than 20 percent use cigarettes. Our research suggests that this dramatic reduction is due to the 1964 Surgeon General’s report and the tobacco control activity that followed. While this is a significant public health achievement, we have much more to do — smoking continues to be the leading contributor to the nation’s death toll.”

In the past 50 years, an estimated 17.6 million smoking-related deaths have occurred, with 6.6 million of them occurring in people below the age of 65, according to the researchers.

The study was led by Theodore Holford, PhD, of Yale School of Public Health, along with others from the University of Michigan and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The study involved examining smoking patterns up through 1964, then using those statistics to determine what most likely would have happened if there was no tobacco control or warning labels on cigarette packages. They compared the estimated deaths in the study to actual deaths and found that an estimated 157 million years of life were saved. Approximately 5.3 million of the lives saved were in men and 2.7 million were in women.

“An estimated 31 percent of premature deaths were avoided by this effort, but even more encouraging is the steady progress that was achieved over the past half-century, beginning with a modest 11 percent in the first decade to 48 percent of the estimate what we would have seen from 2004 to 2012 in the absence of tobacco control,” said Holford.

“Today, a 40-year-old man can expect on average to live 7.8 years longer than he would have in 1964, and 30 percent of that improvement can be attributed to tobacco control. The gains for women have been slightly less, 5.4 years, but tobacco control accounts for 29 percent of that benefit.”

Tobacco control, consisting of warnings and higher cost per packs, have contributed to reduced smoking among adults.

Although the percentage of smokers has decreased, the number of cigarette smokers has increased worldwide due to the increase in population, according to the study.

The study revealed that smoking among women decreased by 42 percent, and among men by 25 percent between 1980 and 2012. Four countries — Canada, Iceland, Mexico and Norway — have reduced smoking in both men and women by over 50 percent since 1980.

Dr. Christopher Murray, who is the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said, “Despite the tremendous progress made on tobacco control, much more remains to be done. We have the legal means to support tobacco control, and where we see progress being made we need to look for ways to accelerate that progress. Where we see stagnation, we need to find out what’s going wrong.”

The study found that more than six trillion cigarettes are smoked around the world and in 75 countries an average of 20 cigarettes per day were lit up by each smoker in 2012.

“Tobacco control is particularly urgent in countries where the number of smokers is increasing,” said Alan Lopez, Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. “Since we know that half of all smokers will eventually be killed by tobacco, greater numbers of smokers will mean a massive increase in premature deaths in our lifetime.”

“Although in several countries substantial uncertainty remains in monitoring tobacco exposure and estimating the disease burden associated with it, there can be no doubt that both are large. Policies and strategies to improve global health must include comprehensive efforts to control tobacco use, as envisaged under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. But implementation of policies is not enough; countries, and the global health community, need to collect timely, reliable, and detailed information on the effect of those policies, particularly among vulnerable populations and those being directly targeted by the tobacco industry. If global tobacco control is to benefit from concerted policy action, population-level surveillance of tobacco use and its health effects needs to be strengthened and routinely used to evaluate the impact of tobacco control strategies,” the authors write.

The 1964 tobacco report was released by then Surgeon General Luther Terry. He started a committee who reviewed 7,000 scientific articles and worked alongside more than 150 consultants to gather information for his report. The time of the report’s release — which was on a Saturday — was to gain maximum media coverage for Sunday newspapers. He later referred to the report as a “bombshell.”

The original report sparked levels of the government and businesses to initiate efforts to control smoking. Some of them include, warning labels on cigarette packages, increased taxes, advertising restrictions, limit public smoking areas and products and programs to help people stop smoking.