Wednesday, January 8, 2014

First tobacco warning came 50 years ago

Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health. 

On Jan. 11, 1964, Surgeon General Luther Terry identified 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.  

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. 

Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, has called 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.”

In 1964, the American Lung Association was known as the National Tuberculosis Association. And just as the TV series "Mad Men" reminds us, smoking cigarettes in the office, in restaurants, almost everywhere, was not only not shunned, it was condoned and almost encouraged. 

I remember in my own childhood home, where no one smoked, we had ash trays on every end table and coffee table. And when I started working as a newspaper reporter in the early 1970s, nearly all of my colleagues smoked. Newsrooms smelled like bars, and no one said a thing.

Today, with smoking bans in most buildings and restaurants, the stalwart few are banished to outdoor smoking areas from the heat of summer to the cold of winter.

In the meantime, the American Lung Association reminds us that tobacco use 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. 

More than 8 million premature deaths have been avoided and life expectancy has been extended for men by more than two years and for women by more than 1.5 years over the past 50 years due in large part to tobacco control efforts such as increased tobacco taxes, smoke-free air laws, marketing and sales restrictions and cessation treatment programs, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“We have made significant progress against tobacco use over the past half century, but there are still nearly 44 million smokers nationwide, more than 3,000 kids pick up their first cigarette every day, and more than 443,000 people in America will die from smoking-related diseases this year," said John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society.

"The main reason: The unscrupulous tobacco industry continues to oppose tobacco control efforts, challenge proven tobacco control policies in court, manipulate products to get around existing regulations, produce and promote new tobacco products and spend billions of dollars on marketing to deceive the public and to addict more kids."