Smokers scarce in America, 50 yrs after health warning

January 11, 2014 by Kerry Sheridan

Fifty years ago, almost half of Americans smoked cigarettes—at work, in restaurants, schools and even in hospitals. Then came a landmark warning that changed everything.

The Surgeon General's report on smoking and health, issued January 11, 1964, was the first of its kind to alert the public that cigarettes caused and other fatal tumors.

The contents of the nearly 400-page report made headlines across America. And while not everyone heeded its call to cut tobacco out of daily life, within a decade smoking was slowly but steadily on the decline.

Today, 18 percent of Americans smoke, down from 42 percent in 1964.

The change in smoking habits has saved eight million people from dying prematurely over the last 50 years, according to research released this week to coincide with the report's anniversary.

Lung cancer rates are down, and men and women are living longer than ever before.

"In the past half century, nothing else has come close to this contribution to the health of Americans. Nothing," said Ken Warner, professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan.

"I firmly believe that when 20th century historians look back on the last century they are going to conclude that the rise and fall of the cigarette constituted one of the most important public health stories of the century," he told reporters in Washington.

But as experts held press conferences and scientific journals published research on the changes in American and longevity since 1964, some warned that significant challenges remain.

For instance, while smoking rates are down globally, the actual number of smokers is on the rise in the world as cigarettes gain popularity in places like China and India, according to the Institute for Health Metrics in Washington.

Globally, the number of smokers has climbed from 721 million in 1980 to 967 million in 2012, it said.

Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing some 400,000 people annually.

"One out of every five deaths is a completely preventable -produced death," said Warner.

On the flip side of the eight-million-lives-saved figure is a more harrowing one: nearly 18 million people in the United States have died from tobacco since 1964.

"It is a horrible statistic," said Michael Terry, the son of the late Luther Terry, the who issued report 50 years ago.

"He would be disappointed," Terry said. "He would say, 'What have we been doing?'"

Studies show that new products like mini cigars that come in fruit flavors, as well as electronic cigarettes are gaining in popularity, particularly among young people.

Every day, about three thousand youths try cigarettes for the first time, and 700 get hooked, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

"The primary reason we haven't accomplished more is the same today as it was in 1964. It is the behavior of the ," said the group's president, Matthew Myers.

"Cigarettes today are every bit as deadly, every bit as addictive and even more appealing to our nation's children," said Myers.

He added that the tobacco industry spends one million dollars an hour on marketing, "much of that in ways to make tobacco products more appealing and more accessible to our kids."

However, David Sylvia, a spokesman for Altria, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, said cigarette advertising is way down, due to a major legal settlement in 1998 led to dramatic changes in marketing.

No longer can cigarette ads be emblazoned across billboards, taxi cabs, branded merchandise or sports stadiums.

Today, much of tobacco marketing is done one-on-one to adult consumers who ask to receive money-saving promotions, and via retail establishments where are sold, he said.

"We want to market to adults that currently use products," he told AFP.

"We don't want kids to use ," he said, adding that efforts are made to limit the reach of to "unintended audiences."

Explore further: 50 years of tobacco control significantly extended lives of 8 million Americans

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3 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2014
Cigarettes were known to be unhealthy for several decades before that. Tobacco companies were kept busy with damage control all the time. A good lesson in the power of marketing. Looking at old magazines, you'll find ads telling us what cigarette most doctors smoke, or what cigarette they recommend.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2014
These simply made up statistics are irritating and detract from any message which might have been effective. Example:

"One out of every five deaths is a completely preventable smoking-produced death," said Warner.

Since 20% (1 in 5) adults in the U.S. smoke, the above comment attributes 100% of all smokers deaths with smoking.

Pseudoscience is not science and does not belong on a science site.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2014
Although you won't see very many cigarette advertisements, you'll see smoking subtly glorified in movies and television.
not rated yet Jan 13, 2014
"One out of every five deaths is a completely preventable smoking-produced death," said Warner.
I can't speak for the veracity of this figure but it is perfectly plausible, dogbert notwithstanding. Death from smoking related causes occurs due to past behaviour, not necessarily current behaviour. Although only 18% of US adults smoke today, many of those who are currently non-smokers were smokers in the past and some of them will be dying as a result despite giving it up in the meantime. (Not to mention the contribution of passive smoking.)
not rated yet Jan 13, 2014
I can't speak for the veracity of this figure but it is perfectly plausible, dogbert notwithstanding.

No, it is not plausible and it is simply fiction. Made up. Such assertions do not belong in a scientific publication.

And the number of US adults who smoke is generally accepted to be 20%, not 18%.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2014
Centers for Disease Control:
Average annual deaths in US attributable to tobacco (2000 - 2004) "About 443,000"
Deaths in US in 2010: 2,468,435
Assume roughly similar figures in 2013 as these
% of deaths in 2013 due to tobacco: Roughly 18%

Which makes the claim of one in five plausible.

Another way of looking at it:-
If 42% of Americans used to smoke,and deaths due to smoking are about 20% of all deaths then smoking kills about 50% of smokers.

The flaw in dogbert's original critique was to equate the percentage of current deaths with the percentage of current smokers. Current deaths reflect historical smoking rates, not current smoking rates. The rough equivalence of these figures is purely coincidental.
not rated yet Jan 14, 2014

Citing figures the CDC made up is no argument.

Note that according to you, the CDC says 18% of all deaths in the US are attributable to tobacco. The article said that 100% of all smokers' deaths were attributable to smoking.

Both of these claims are simply fiction. They are made up. And they are not the same claim.

It is obvious to any reasonable person that 100% of smokers who die from all causes did not really die from smoking.
not rated yet Jan 14, 2014
The CDC site - http://www.cdc.go...dex.html - attributes 50% of smokers' deaths to tobacco.
dawn brown
not rated yet Jan 17, 2014
does mentioning your smoker status in your health insurance makes you pay more?

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