Tobacco use is the number one killer - Political will is needed to end the epidemic

Statement of Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO, American Lung Association

Washington, D.C. (January 16, 2014)

Fifty years after the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report, tobacco use is our nation’s number one cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. Despite 50 years of progress, now is the time for political leaders at all levels of government to commit to ending the tobacco epidemic and saving lives.

This new report of the U.S. Surgeon General, The Health Consequences of Smoking, 50 Years of Progress, serves as another call to action. The progress of the last 50 years - including cutting smoking rates by more than half and preventing 8 million premature deaths – only came about through intense and sustained action. Only a recommitment to a heightened level of action will enable us to finish the job. What has been missing thus far is the political will of federal and state government leaders to do what we know works to save lives.

Last week, the American Lung Association and our partners called for bold action by all levels of government to achieve three bold goals:

  • Reduce smoking rates, currently at about 18 percent, to less than 10 percent within 10 years;
  • Protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years; and
  • Ultimately eliminate the death and disease caused by tobacco use.

Reducing tobacco use by 10 percent by 2024 will only occur if our leaders chart a new course and commit to making tobacco history.

The Obama Administration must respond to this new report and take courageous steps to fight the tobacco epidemic. The American Lung Association is calling for:

  • The Food and Drug Administration to move forward with aggressively implementing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, starting with the White House Office of Management and Budget releasing the proposed rules to regulate all tobacco products including e-cigarettes and cigars.
  • The Obama Administration to make sure that all Americans have access to a comprehensive quit smoking benefit with no barriers as part of their health insurance. We know that not everyone quits the same way, which is why smokers need access to all seven FDA-approved medications and all three forms of counseling - individual counseling, group counseling and quitlines.
  • Congress to significantly increase the federal tobacco tax and close tobacco tax loopholes so that all tobacco products are taxed at equivalent rates.
  • FDA to remove menthol cigarettes from the marketplace. In July of 2013, FDA issued a report concluding that the consequences of menthol cigarettes to public health are greater than cigarettes without menthol as a characterizing flavor.

The American Lung Association has fought with our partners to pass policies to prevent kids from starting, help smokers quit and protect everyone from the dangers of secondhand smoke. To ensure the bold goals we have called for are met, the American Lung Association is calling for all states to:

  • Fully fund comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Increase tobacco taxes and close tobacco tax loopholes so that all tobacco products are taxed at equivalent rates.
  • Ensure all smokers have access to a comprehensive quit smoking benefit with no barriers as part of their health insurance.
  • Pass comprehensive smokefree laws in states where they are not in place. At present, only 28 states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive smokefree air laws.

On January 22, the American Lung Association will release our twelfth annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, which issues grades for the federal government and all 50 states on whether they are implementing these policies we know save lives. Our 2014 report is both a call to action to end the tobacco epidemic and a benchmark against which progress from our political leaders in Washington and across the country can be measured.

For more than 50 years, since before the first Surgeon General’s report, the Lung Association has been fighting against tobacco use, lung cancer, COPD and the other tobacco-related diseases. In communities across the country we are helping adults smokers quit with our Freedom From Smoking® in person and online program. Our nationally recognize NOT® Not – On – Tobacco program helps teens quit. Our trained cessation specialists, respiratory therapists and registered nurses help smokers quit through our Lung Helpline. We also work tireless to help prevent children from starting to use tobacco. But, we also know that individual actions alone cannot win this war and cannot defeat the tobacco industry.

Over the past five decades, tobacco control efforts have saved millions of lives. Eight hundred thousand lung cancer deaths were prevented in just 25 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported during the period 2005-2009 that lung cancer rates among men have declined 2.6 percent per year and 1.1 percent per year among women. But lung cancer remains the nation’s leading cancer killer.

Millions of lives have also been lost because not enough was done to enact the lifesaving policies we know work. The tobacco industry spends more than eight billion dollars to market and promote their lethal products. Only a comprehensive approach that touches every community can counter this terrible scourge. The American Lung Association is calling on the President, Congress, governors, legislators and local officials to stand up, implement the policies that save lives and make tobacco history. 

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About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases.  For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: www.Lung.org.