Surgeon General’s New Report Attributes Smoking as Cause of Death in More Than 20 Million Americans Over Past 50 Years

Get Permission

Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH

"Over the last 50 years tobacco control efforts have saved 8 million lives but the job is far from over."

—Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH

According to a new Surgeon General’s report issued last month, more than 20 million Americans have died from smoking over the past 50 years. The new report concludes that cigarette smoking kills nearly half a million Americans a year, with an additional 16 million suffering from smoking-related conditions. It puts the price tag of smoking in this country at more than $289 billion a year in direct medical care and other economic costs.

Further, approximately 5.6 million American children alive today, or one out of every 13 children under age 18, will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases unless current smoking rates drop.

The recent report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, comes a half century after the historic 1964 Surgeon General’s report, which concluded that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. Since that time, smoking has been identified as a cause of serious diseases of nearly all the body’s organs. Today, scientists add diabetes, colorectal and liver cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, age-related macular degeneration, and other conditions to the list of diseases that cigarette smoking causes. In addition, the report concludes that second-hand smoke exposure is now known to cause strokes in nonsmokers.

“Smokers today have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than they did when the first Surgeon General’s report was released in 1964, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes,” said Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, MD, MPH. “Of all forms of tobacco, cigarettes are the most deadly and cause medical and financial burdens for millions of Americans.”

Although youth smoking rates declined by half between 1997 and 2011, each day another 3,200 children under age 18 smoke their first cigarette, and another 2,100 youth and young adults become daily smokers.

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

See the next issue of The ASCO Post for more on the Surgeon General’s New Report on smoking
and health. ■