Letter: On smoking, there’s more work to be done

Last modified: Monday, January 27, 2014
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first of more than 30 surgeon general reports linking smoking to ill health. In the scientifically rigorous 1964 report, Surgeon General Luther Terry linked smoking tobacco to lung cancer and heart disease. In his 1980s reports Surgeon General C. Everett Koop named smoking the No. 1 preventable cause of death and disability in our nation. Since these reports, we have made great strides.

Half of all ever-smokers alive today have quit smoking. Smoking prevalence has also halved.

Since 1964, more than 5 million premature deaths have been averted; and on average each individual has gained 15-20 years life expectancy. Tobacco use prevention and control is the greatest public health story of the past half century.

The image and place of smoking tobacco has changed “forever.” But has it? Is the job done? No! Approximately 20 percent of the adult population still smokes. There are still more than 45 million adult smokers. Smoking tobacco is still the No. 1 cause of avoidable premature death.

And without evidence of reduced harm, we are seeing other products like e-cigarettes being advertised like in the 1950s, diluting the hard-won image of tobacco being unhealthy.

In 2007 the Institute of Medicine reported that we have a blueprint to reduce tobacco use so substantially that it would no longer be a public health problem by implementing evidence-based prevention and control measures and changing the regulation landscape. In a phrase, elimination in a generation!

This month updated reports from the Centers for Disease Control, the surgeon general and the American Lung Association will be released and give us the framework to accomplish this. All we need is the political will. Let’s do it!



(The writer is chairman of Tobacco Free New Hampshire.)