Smoking Has Killed More Than 20 Million Americans Over The Past 50 Years

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Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. surgeon general’s landmark report in which the government tied tobacco to lung cancer for the first time. In the decades since, additional scientific research into the field has added many more health issues to the growing list of smoking’s side effects. Now, in a new report, the government’s top doctor is acknowledging that smoking can also lead to diabetes, liver cancer, erectile dysfunction, and ectopic pregnancy.

“The conclusions from these reports have evolved from a few causal associations in 1964 to a robust body of evidence documenting health consequences both from active smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke across a range of diseases and organ systems,” the acting surgeon general, Dr. Boris D. Lushniak, wrote in the report. “A half century after the release of the first report, we continue to add to the long list of diseases caused by tobacco use and exposure.”

Lushniak noted that smoking has contributed to the premature deaths of an estimated 20 million Americans since the publication of the groundbreaking report in 1964. 2.5 million of those deaths were related to secondhand smoke. Lushniak laid much of the blame squarely at the feet of the tobacco industry, which spent years deceiving the American public about the dangers of cigarettes.

There has been a lot of progress in this area in recent years. According to a recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), anti-tobacco efforts have helped save an estimated eight million Americans’ lives over the past five decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to invest in effective new public health campaigns to encourage people to quit. Smoking rates continue to drop, and recently finally fell below 20 percent — something that health officials consider to be somewhat of a milestone.

“It’s a winnable fight,” Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the Washington Post. “We actually have the policies and programs to end the tobacco epidemic, and they don’t cost so much they can’t be implemented quickly.” In fact, anti-tobacco programs are so cost-effective that some studies have estimated that states’ returns on them can be as high as $50 saved for every $1 spent.