Is America on its way to being tobacco free? Maybe, according to a recent article published by the Star Tribune. For the first time in national history, health officials have begun to predict the end of tobacco smoking in America. Over the past 50 years, smoking rates in the United States have been reduced by about one half (from 42.7 percent in 1965 to 18 percent in 2012). However, the 2014 Surgeon General Report, which marks the 50 year anniversary of the first Surgeon General Report release, discusses the concerted effort to reduce smoking rates in the United States to less than ten percent within the next ten years. The report leads many to believe that tobacco smoking may be nearing its end in America.
“I believe that we can make the next generation tobacco-free” stated Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in the report. Smoking-related illnesses are considered to be one of the greatest public health concerns of the century and, while the reduction in tobacco smoking is considered a success by many public health experts, the latest Surgeon General Report stated that much more needs to be done. In order to end the tobacco epidemic once and for all, Sebelius calls for redoubled efforts to control tobacco use and a shared responsibility by both nongovernmental partners and society as a whole.
Over 20 million Americans have died prematurely as a result of smoking and smoking-related illness since the first Surgeon General Report was released 50 years ago. Smoking has been widely known to increase risk for illnesses including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, immune and autoimmune disorders, and eye disease. Smoking is also known to cause reproductive issues and diminished overall health. However, despite increased tobacco control measures and education around the dangers of smoking, an estimated 42 million adults and 3.5 million middle and high school students still choose to smoke.
In order to help ensure that tobacco smoking nears its end in America, the Surgeon General Report calls for additional “end game strategies.” Among these strategies are suggestions for implementing increased education through national media campaigns, raising excise cigarette taxes to deter both current and new smokers, providing smokers with smoking cessation treatment programs through the Affordable Care Act, and extending “smoke free indoor protections” to all Americans.
According to the Star Tribune, recent polls have shown that smoking tobacco is now considered a taboo pastime and that smoking cigarettes is less popular among teenagers than using marijuana. CVS, one of American’s largest pharmacy chains, recently announced its plan to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in more than 7,600 stores across the country. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in a press release earlier this month that it is planning to launch an unprecedented campaign designed to reduce and prevent tobacco use among youth. The FDA stated that tobacco use is one of the most preventable causes of death and disease in the United States today.
The new measures outlined in the Surgeon General Report, coupled with the FDA’s new educational initiatives and national support from retailers like CVS, leads many to believe that tobacco smoking could be nearing its end in America. Tobacco is thought to contribute to about 480,000 deaths each year, but some are quick to remind folks that, even if tobacco use stopped today, it may take decades to realize the health benefits.
By Katie Bloomstrom
Food and Drug Administration