50 years later, smoking still reigns as top killer

smoking1Smoking rates among adults and teens are less than half of what they were in 1964, when the U.S. surgeon general released the first report linking smoking to serious health problems. However, 42 million American adults and about 3 million middle and high school students continue to smoke, according to The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General.

“Over the last 50 years tobacco control and prevention efforts have saved 8 million lives, but the job is far from over,” said Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, assistant secretary of health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This report provides the impetus to accelerate public health and clinical strategies to drop overall smoking rates to less than 10 percent in the next decade. Our nation is now at a crossroads, and we must choose to end the tobacco epidemic once and for all.”

About 500,000 Americans die prematurely every year because of smoking. That keeps tobacco sitting at No. 1 on the top causes of preventable death.

Any report that spans 50 years will include a lot of numbers and comparisons. This 32nd tobacco-related report from the Office of the Surgeon General is no exception.

So what’s happened since that first report?

  • More than 20 million Americans have died due to smoking
  • 2.5 million of those who died were nonsmokers exposed to other people’s smoke
  • More than 100,000 babies have died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) related to parental smoking
  • The risk a female smoker will develop lung cancer has increased tenfold
  • The risk a male smoker will develop lung cancer has doubled

The report also examines the current smoking situation and what it may mean for the future:

  • About 5.6 million children alive today—1 of every 13—will die prematurely unless current smoking rates drop.
  • For the first time, women are as likely as men to die from such smoking-related diseases as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cardiovascular disease.
  • At least $130 billion in direct medical costs for adults could be saved every year if all smokers quit and young people were prevented from starting smoking.
  • Strategies that have proven effective at reducing rates of smoking are not being used enough. These include smoke-free policies, comprehensive statewide tobacco control programs and tobacco taxes that are high enough to deter young people from the habit.

You can download a guide to the report here.

Learn more about the health effects of smoking and tips for quitting in the Smoking health topic center.

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