Anti-Tobacco Efforts Have Saved 8 Million U.S. Lives Over The Past 50 Years

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Half a century ago, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry released the first ever Report on Smoking and Health. Since then, at least eight million U.S. lives have been saved thanks to anti-tobacco measures, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The study authors write that there were eight million fewer deaths related to smoking between 1964 and 2012 than there would have been without the anti-tobacco measures, split between 5.3 million men’s lives saved and 2.7 million women’s lives saved. The gender discrepancy is likely due to the fact that men smoked at significantly higher rates than women in the 1950s and 1960s.

During this period, life expectancy at age 40 increased by nearly eight years for men and five-and-a-half years for women. And 2.3 years and 1.6 years of the increases for men and women, respectively, were thanks to tobacco control efforts. In fact, the researchers estimate that smoking rates would be about twice as high for women and three times as high for men today had aggressive anti-smoking efforts not been adopted in America:

smoking prevalence by sex

CREDIT: Journal of the American Medical Association

Still, the researches are concerned that smoking rates remain unacceptably high in America and across the world.

“Despite the success of tobacco control efforts in reducing premature deaths in the United States, smoking remains a significant public health problem,” wrote the authors. “Today, a half century after the surgeon general’s first pronouncement on the toll that smoking exacts from US society, nearly a fifth of US adults continue to smoke, and smoking continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives annually. No other behavior comes close to contributing so heavily to the nation’s mortality burden.”

The problem extends well beyond the United States. Although the adoption of stricter anti-smoking policies since 2007 alone will save approximately 7.4 million lives across 41 countries by 2050, the World Health Organization estimates that just between eight and 11 percent of the world population lives in countries with the most effective tobacco control measures, such as minimum tobacco taxes and secondhand smoke prevention efforts.