WASHINGTON (AP) — One in 13 children could see their lives shortened by smoking unless the nation takes more aggressive action to end the tobacco epidemic, the U.S. Surgeon General said Friday — even as, astonishingly, scientists added still more diseases to the long list of cigarettes’ harms.
On the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 surgeon general’s report that launched the anti-smoking movement, far fewer Americans are smoking — about 18 percent of adults today, down from more than 42 percent in 1964.
But the government may not meet its goal of dropping that rate to 12 percent by 2020, the new report cautions.
Nearly half a million people will die from smoking-related diseases this year. Each day, more than 3,200 youths smoke their first cigarette. New products such as e-cigarettes, with effects that aren’t yet understood, complicate public health messages.
And if current trends continue unabated, 5.6 million of today’s children and teens will go on to die prematurely during adulthood because of smoking, the report says.
What’s particularly remarkable is that 50 years into the war on smoking, “we’re still finding out new ways that tobacco maims and kills people,” added Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Tobacco is even worse than we knew it was.”
Here are some ways the smoking landscape has changed between the 1964 surgeon general’s report and Friday’s:
About 20.8 million people in the U.S. have died from smoking-related diseases since then, a toll the report puts at 10 times the number of Americans who have died in all of the nation’s wars combined. Most were smokers or former smokers, but nearly 2.5 million died from heart disease or lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.
Today, lung cancer is the top cancer killer, and women who smoke have about the same risk of dying from it as men. As smoking has declined, rates of new lung cancer diagnoses are declining nearly 3 percent a year among men and about 1 percent a year among women.
With warnings now everywhere, Friday’s report says, “We know that increasing the cost of cigarettes is one of the most powerful interventions we can make.” In 2012, the average price of a pack of cigarettes was $6, largely reflecting an increase in state and federal taxes. For every 10 percent increase in the price, there’s a 4 percent drop in smoking.