Making Tobacco History

(January 13, 2014)

American Lung AssociationDuring the week surrounding the 50th Anniversary of the First Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking, the American Lung Association and other public health organizations issued a bold challenge to the nation: Let’s work together to reduce smoking rates to 10 percent in 10 years.  Fifty years into the fight against tobacco use, the leading cause of preventable disease and death in America, it time to make tobacco history by ending the tobacco epidemic for good.

The first report, issued by Surgeon General Luther Terry on January 11, 1964 was a landmark in public health, identifying smoking as a cause of lung cancer in men, a likely cause of lung cancer in women and a likely cause of emphysema and chronic bronchitis - now known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  This was a clarion call in the fight against tobacco use, which is the leading cause of preventable death and illness today in the United States. 

A new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reveals the overwhelming toll of tobacco use and the lifesaving impact of tobacco control efforts since the release of the first surgeon general’s report.  The numbers are staggering:

  • Smoking has killed almost 18 million people in the U.S. since 1964
  • Tobacco control efforts have saved 8 million Americans from premature death and extended their lives by an average of almost 20 years.
  • 800,000 lung cancer deaths were prevented between 1975 and 2000 alone.  

“Lung cancer is a disease of the lung, and because smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, nothing is more important to the American Lung Association than finishing the job we started 50 years ago and making smoking a relic of the past,” said Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “On the anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report, we’re calling for a recommitment by the nation to end tobacco use, and free us from the terrible toll it takes on our health and future. We can’t afford another 50 years.”

Proven methods to reduce tobacco-caused deaths include smokefree laws, higher cigarette taxes, quit-smoking programs and public awareness campaigns designed to prevent kids from starting to smoke and encourage smokers to quit.  It is also critical that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) begin aggressively implementing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave FDA immediate authority to regulate the sales, marketing and manufacture of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.   

“For more than 50 years, the Lung Association has been fighting against tobacco use, lung cancer, COPD and other tobacco caused diseases.  We’re helping smokers quit through our Lung Helpline & quit smoking programs.  And here in Washington and across the country in small towns, big cities and state capitals, the Lung Association and its partners have fought to pass policies to protect everyone from the dangers of secondhand smoke; to increase tobacco taxes; to fight for adequately funded programs to keep kids from starting; and to help smokers quit,” said Paul G. Billings, Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Education for the American Lung Association.

This January, the Surgeon General will release the 50th anniversary Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health. Despite tremendous progress made over the last half-century, tobacco use still remains the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, killing 443,000 Americans and costing the nation $193 billion in health care expenditures and lost productivity each year.  On January 22, the American Lung Association will release its “State of Tobacco Control 2014” report which rates tobacco control efforts by the federal and state governments and reveals how legislators across the country have failed to do all they can to enact lifesaving tobacco control laws. On January 22, visit to get the full story.

“We need the Obama Administration to use its remaining three years to save lives by aggressively fighting back against the tobacco epidemic,” explained Billings.  “The FDA must have the authority to regulate all tobacco products – including e-cigarettes and cigars.  And every smoker must have access to a comprehensive quit smoking benefit, which we are waiting for the Administration to define to ensure coverage through the Affordable Care Act.  Those are two things that the Administration could do this year that would make a significant difference and bring us closer to only 10 percent of adults in the U.S. smoking in 10 years.” 

The fight against tobacco doesn't end today. And it won't end this year. There is still a lot of progress to be made, which is why the American Lung Association is part of a coalition committed to reducing the smoking rate in America to less than 10 percent by 2024. This ambitious goal will only be attained through a nationwide commitment to step up the methods that we know work, and make tobacco history.

What Can You Do? First, you can get involved, and join us in our mission to make tobacco history. Next, spread the word. All of us have been impacted by tobacco in one way or another. Share how you and your family have been impacted by tobacco these last 50 years. Please share your experience on our Facebook page or tag us on Twitter using the hashtag #maketobaccohistory.