Thursday, January 9, 2014

The 50th Anniversary of an Important Moment

Fifty years ago this week, the Surgeon General of the United States, Luther L. Terry, released Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General, an important milestone in the effort to control tobacco as a public health hazard. While studies from the early 1950s had already indicated that smoking caused lung cancer, and prior studies had shown correlations between smoking an risk of premature death, the report of the Surgeon General made it the opinion of the United States government that smoking was a significant health hazard, and should be controlled by legal means. In that time, we've seen efforts to restrict the purchase of tobacco, the act of smoking, and many, many taxes levied on tobacco, all in an effort to reduce smoking and tobacco consumption.

I won't belabor the point here, so I'll simply point out that the Journal of the American Medical Association has devoted its entire issue to the anniversary of this important event, and also note two studies published in JAMA this month.

The first study found that since the publishing of the Surgeon General's report in 1964, an estimated 8 million smoking-related premature deaths have been prevented in the United States. While lifespan has increased overall since 1964, smoking restriction has added 2.3 years to life expectancy for men, and 1.6 years to life expectancy for women. My own conclusion is that it's been no small potatoes.

The second study found that global smoking rates have decreased for men from 41% in 1980 to 31% in 2012, and for women from 11% in 1980 to 6% in 2012. While this is excellent news - it means that global smoking rates have decreased by over a third - the total number of smokers has actually increased as the global population has increased, so we still have lots of work to do.

As we move forward into the second 50 years of tobacco restriction, and especially as we now see the rise of legalized marijuana consumption, let's not ignore the important work that still must be done, while we celebrate that this global effort has had excellent success.