The first surgeon general’s report in more than a decade says over 20 million Americans have already died because of smoking, and another 5.6 million children could lose their lives if the rate of tobacco use doesn’t decline. As acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak says, “Enough is enough. We need to eliminate the use of cigarettes and create a tobacco-free generation.”
The list of diseases linked to smoking is long, including bronchitis, cancer, COPD, various cancers, emphysema, heart attacks and heart disease, stroke, and pregnancy issues ranging from decreased fertility to an increased risk of having a premature or stillborn baby, sudden infant death syndrome, and more. The new report added even more diseases to the list, such as diabetes, erectile dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis and additional types of cancer. While the rate of smokers has steadily declined since 1965, 3,200 people under age 18 still experiment with their first cigarette every day. Lushniak says it will take a comprehensive approach to stop this problem: “It’s not just the federal lead on this anymore. To get this done, we have to go to industry. We have to go to healthcare providers and remind them that this problem is not yet solved.” While the first surgeon general’s report linked lung cancer to smoking, Lushniak points out, “We’re up to 13 right now—13 different cancers associated with smoking in 2014.”
Secondhand smoke has also been found to increase the risk of harmful side effects. Harold Winner, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association, adds, “The progress of the last 50 years, including cutting smoking rates by more than half and preventing 8 million premature deaths, only came about through intense and sustained action. Only a recommitment to a heightened level of action will enable us to finish the job.” Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are also being investigated to determine their long-term health impact, while the FDA is already taking steps to regulate their use. Fifty years after the first surgeon general’s report, we’re still uncovering new health hazards caused by smoking.