The U.S. Surgeon General’s report on The Health Consequences of Smoking reminds us just how far we’ve come over the last 50 years in our efforts to control tobacco use and prevent our youth from lighting up. Smoking rates have more than halved since 1964 (42 percent compared to 18 percent in 2012). Thanks to our comprehensive tobacco control programs at the national and local levels,eight million Americans have been saved from premature death, and their lives have been extended by an average of almost 20 years.
Despite these significant gains, our fight to reduce tobacco use is far from won. The Surgeon General’s report tells us what’s at stake. Cigarette smoking kills even more Americans than previously estimated (about 480,000 a year, up from 443,000) and is the cause of even more deadly cancers and chronic diseases than we had thought. Because of changes in how they’re made and what’s been added to them, cigarettes are even deadlier now than when they were first introduced. The risk of developing the most common type of lung cancer has increased substantially since we first learned that smoking causes lung cancer.
If we don’t do more to end the tobacco epidemic in our country, 5.6 million children alive today will ultimately die early from smoking:
So how do we ensure that the next generation will be tobacco-free?
The Surgeon General believes, and we agree, that we need to extend the use of proven, evidence-based strategies that have shown to lower smoking rates and protect our youth. These strategies include—hard-hitting media campaigns, high cigarette prices, bold smoke-free laws, and robust tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
The tobacco industry spends more than $8 billion a year to market its deadly products. Yet states only spend less than $1.50 per person, far less than the amount recommended by the CDC on tobacco control programs.
We need to do much more to prevent youth from becoming addicted, help smokers break their addiction, and protect non-smokers of all ages from the senseless death and disease caused by smoking and secondhand smoke. We join the Surgeon General in his commitment to revitalizing the fight against Big Tobacco and reducing smoking rates to less than 10 percent for both youth and young adults in 10 years.
A tobacco-free generation is within our grasp. It’s time to commit to ending the tobacco epidemic once and for all.