Fifty Years after Surgeon General's Landmark Report on Tobacco, Too Many Still Smoking, Suffering and Dying
NASHVILLE – The once commonly held belief that smoking tobacco was harmless, and perhaps even good for some, was shattered Jan. 11, 1964. The first U.S. Surgeon General’s report on smoking was issued that day, alerting Americans, and the world, to the deadly consequences of smoking.
In the 50 years since that report, the U.S. and Tennessee have made remarkable progress, cutting smoking rates significantly, protecting much of the population from harmful secondhand smoke and saving millions of lives. Still the battle against tobacco is far from won and too many people develop or sustain addictions to tobacco products.
“Tobacco use kills more than 440,000 Americans, including 9,700 Tennesseans, every year; it sickens millions more and costs Tennessee $2.6 billion of the nation’s $193 billion in healthcare bills and lost productivity,” said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. "Our state is near the bottom, 47th, in smoking rates with a quarter of all adults and more than one in five high school students currently smoking. This is terrible. We can and must do a better job in preventing young people from starting an addiction to nicotine, preventing children and others from being exposed to harmful secondhand tobacco products, and encouraging people to quit through programs like 1-800-QUIT-NOW.”
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the tobacco industry spends eight billion dollars annually, or nearly one million dollars per hour, on marketing and recruiting two new young smokers for every adult who dies from tobacco-related illness. That equates to about $28 per U.S. resident per year. The CDC also reports that states collect about $80 per person per year in tobacco taxes and settlement funds but only spend, collectively, about $1.50 per year per person on tobacco prevention.
In 2013, the state of Tennessee recognized its tobacco use challenges and appropriated new tobacco settlement funding for a statewide program. All 95 counties have now developed localized plans to help reduce smoking during pregnancy, to reduce secondhand smoke exposure that causes childhood asthma and earaches and to help children not to start using tobacco products. The county-level programs are expected to further reduce the number of smokers in Tennessee, which has seen gradual improvement.
Tennessee and many other states are using the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s report on tobacco to emphasize three shared national goals: 1) Reduce smoking rates to less than 10 percent within 10 years; 2) to protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years; and 3) ultimately eliminate death and disease caused by tobacco.
Tobacco users in Tennessee may call the Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for assistance with their efforts to stop smoking. They may also join the free program online at www.tnquitline.com.
“It is exceptionally difficult to end an addiction to tobacco,” said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD. “Nicotine, found in all tobacco products, is one of the most addictive substances in existence, producing cravings and symptoms of withdrawal when it is not available to a user. We must, as a society, do a better job in educating young people to never light that first cigarette or try that first taste of chewing tobacco because one in three who use tobacco die from tobacco-related illnesses. We all pay the price when a young person develops the addiction for any nicotine-based product.”
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/.