Jan. 17, 2014

Surgeon General says cigarettes more deadly than ever

A new Surgeon General’s Report (SGR) issued today concludes that approximately 5.6 million American children alive today – or one out of every 13 children under age 18 – will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases unless current smoking rates drop.

The new report comes fifty years after a landmark report that for the first time definitively proved that smoking caused lung and laryngeal cancers. Fadlo R. Khuri, MD, deputy director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and a lung and head and neck cancer expert, says the 1964 SGR changed the public’s perception of smoking risks and sparked smoking cessation efforts.

"Since that historic report, cigarette smoking among adults has gone from 52 percent of adult men and 35 percent of adult women to an overall 18 percent. From my perspective, that is still too high," says Khuri.

"Today, we are certain that tobacco causes some of the most widespread and devastating diseases in the world, including cancers of the lung, larynx, esophagus, mouth, throat and bladder, which together account for about 30 percent of the world’s cancer-related deaths."

Today's report adds colorectal and liver cancer to the types of cancer caused by cigarette smoking, as well as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions. Since 1964 when the first SGR was released, smoking has been identified as a cause of serious diseases of nearly all the body’s organs.

The new report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, concludes that cigarette smoking kills nearly half a million Americans a year, with an additional 16 million suffering from smoking-related conditions. The report characterizes the harm from tobacco use in the U.S. as "staggering."

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dr. Khuri said what troubles him most about tobacco use these days is that so many young people still take up smoking. According to the new SGR, although youth smoking rates declined between 1997 and 2011, each day another 3,200 children under age 18 smoke their first cigarette, and another 2,100 youth and young adults become daily smokers. Every adult who dies prematurely from smoking is replaced by two youth and young adult smokers.

The report concludes that the tobacco industry started and sustained this epidemic using aggressive marketing strategies to deliberately mislead the public about the harms of smoking. The evidence in the report emphasizes the need to accelerate and sustain successful tobacco control efforts that have been underway for decades.

Khuri, who studies lung cancer and treats patients with the disease, says cancer research has shown great progress in developing more effective treatments, but stresses that prevention will always be more effective than treatment. "Do whatever you can to avoid the disease."

The new Surgeon General’s Report is available for review online.

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