50 years after a U.S. Surgeon General's report concluded that smoking causes lung cancer, a new government report estimates that 5.6 million children will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases if current rates of tobacco use continue.
More than 20 million Americans have died from smoking since the historic 1964 report, but smoking continues to kill nearly 500,000 Americans a year. Another 16 million Americans suffer from smoking-related illnesses that costs society more than $289 billion annually in medical care other economic costs, according to the new report, "The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General."
Although smoking rates have declined since the 1964 report, 3,200 children under age 18 smoke their first cigarette each day, while another 2,100 youngsters and young adults become daily smokers, the report concludes. In fact, every adult who dies early from smoking is replaced two young smokers.
The health effects are devastating. In addition to cancer, researchers say smoking also causes diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, liver and colorectal cancer and a host of other illnesses. Nonsmokers are also at risk because secondhand tobacco smoke is known to cause strokes.
Just 20 years ago, male smokers were nearly twice as likely to die prematurely from smoking-related disease than women. But women's death rates from smoking are now at the same level as males, the report finds.
“Smokers today have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than they did when the first Surgeon General’s report was released in 1964, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes,” said Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H. “How cigarettes are made and the chemicals they contain have changed over the years, and some of those changes may be a factor in higher lung cancer risks. Of all forms of tobacco, cigarettes are the most deadly – and cause medical and financial burdens for millions of Americans.”
The report calls for increasing and sustaining the tobacco-control efforts that cut smoking rates over the last few decades.
“Over the last 50 years tobacco control efforts have saved 8 million lives but the job is far from over,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H. “This report provides the impetus to accelerate public health and clinical strategies to drop overall smoking rates to less than 10% in the next decade. Our nation is now at a crossroads, and we must choose to end the tobacco epidemic once and for all.”
In addition to enactment of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the Obama administration has fought smoking through expanded tobacco cessation efforts and more funding for tobacco prevention campaigns through the Affordable Care Act.
“Today, we’re asking Americans to join a sustained effort to make the next generation a tobacco-free generation,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This is not something the federal government can do alone. We need to partner with the business community, local elected officials, schools and universities, the medical community, the faith community, and committed citizens in communities across the country to make the next generation tobacco free.”
Go to to see the full report.