First Surgeon General’s Report: 50 Years Later, Tobacco Remains a ‘Public Health Catastrophe’
U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius led off an event at the White House today to mark the 50th anniversary of the inaugural Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health and to release a new progress report on smoking and health by telling the crowd of tobacco advocacy experts that “we’re still a country very much addicted to tobacco.” The new report finds that while the number of U.S. smokers is down from half of the adult population five decades ago to about 18 percent today, if the current smoking trends continue, 5.6 million children alive today will die of tobacco-related diseases in the years ahead.
The report also shows that although many diseases other than lung cancer have been linked to tobacco in the last fifty years, even more illnesses are now known to be linked to tobacco, including:
- Strokes from secondhand smoke
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ectopic pregnancies
- Erectile dysfunction
- Colorectal and liver cancer
“Fifty years later, tobacco remains a public health catastrophe and the tobacco fight still rages on every corner of our country,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, MD, MPH at today’s event.
Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, added that most current smokers want to quit. What is keeping smoking rates high, said Frieden, includes advertising and promotional activities by tobacco companies, especially to children and adolescents, as well as disparities in smoking among certain ethnic groups, low-income populations and many people who are mentally ill.
Effective evidence-based measures cited in the report that can reduce smoking include media campaigns, increased tobacco taxes and new smoking cessation benefits made available to people with health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Additionally, actions to reduce smoking that are expected in the coming year include the likely confirmation of a new Surgeon General, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration media campaign aimed at showcasing the dangers of smoking to young people and a new Tips from Former Smokers campaign that will include a video public service announcement (PSA) filmed at the bedside of Terrie Hill, whose previous PSA has been viewed 2 million times and who died of smoking-related illness last year at the age of 53.
>>Bonus Fact: The 1964 Surgeon General Report was released by then-Surgeon General Luther Terry. Among the members of his family attending the White House event today was Dr. Terry’s granddaughter, a graduate of the Harvard School of Public Health.