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May 21, 2018

Public health leaders call for renewed push against tobacco use

January 8, 2014

Public health leaders call for renewed push against tobacco use

As the 50th anniversary of the surgeon general’s first report on smoking approaches Saturday, public health leaders from several organizations are calling for “bold goals” in the next phase of the fight against tobacco use.

During a media briefing Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., leaders from eight health organizations, including the School of Public Health, outlined three goals:

• Reduce smoking rates 10 percent in 10 years or less (10 in 10).

• Eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke in five years.

• Put the United States on a path to eliminate death and disease caused by tobacco, now resulting in one of every five deaths.

Despite the success of various campaigns and programs that started after that original report was issued, health officials say an estimated 44 million Americans still smoke — about 20 percent of the U.S. population.

“Tobacco control has been an unparalleled public health success story, and yet the remaining burden is sobering,” Kenneth Warner, Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health, told reporters. “It has taken 50 years to cut prevalence of smoking in half. None of the organizations here wants to return in another 50 years to a job not done.” 

Wednesday’s announcement came one day after research conducted by six researchers — three, including Warner, from SPH — showed that 8 million lives had been saved because of policy and social changes that followed the historic 1964 report.

Warning labels on cigarette packages, advertising restrictions, anti-smoking public service announcements, and a number of policies about smoking in public places, were among the actions that contributed to lives saved, leaders said.

Michael Terry, son of the author of the first report, former Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry, told how his father essentially had been handed a task no one else wanted. Several groups had asked President John F. Kennedy to establish a commission to look into the health impacts of smoking. It was passed on to a relatively unknown Office of the Surgeon General.

“From a social standpoint, nobody wanted to touch tobacco and smoking. They made a big mistake” in “underestimating” what his father and the team of scientists he assembled would do with the task, the younger Terry said.

Even with the celebration of progress at the 50-year mark, Michael Terry said his father might not be satisfied with where the nation stands.  “He would be disappointed. He would be saying:  ‘What have we been doing?’”

In announcing the goals, Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said meeting them will require assistance from the government leaders “at every level” to step up policies, continue to increase taxes on tobacco, and make smoking-cessation products and services accessible to everyone.

The groups also called for additional research and regulations of e-cigarettes, to determine if they have any benefit as smoking cessation tools for adults, and to keep them out of the hands of children. The products are being marketed to children currently, and preliminary research suggests they encourage young people to take the next step to more traditional forms of tobacco.

“We will not claim victory until every child in the U.S. is tobacco-free,” Myers said.

In addition to U-M, organizations making Wednesday’s announcement included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, the Legacy Foundation, American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the Cancer Action Network.