Study: Millions of lives saved from anti-tobacco campaigns, laws

WASHINGTON – Americans are smoking less these days thanks in no small part to a government warning issued in 1964.

The Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health ultimately resulted in higher tobacco taxes and smoke-free air laws, prompting many smokers to quit.

A new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association underscores the impact that landmark report and the anti-smoking movement that followed have had on the nation’s well-being.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers under the auspices of the National Cancer Institute. David Levy, a population scientist from the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, was among those who crunched years of data, and looked at smoking patterns and mortality rates spanning decades.

“We looked at smoking rates that would have occurred in the absence of the Surgeon General’s report and tobacco control, and compared that to smoking rates as a result of the Surgeon General’s report,” says Levy.

They found there were approximately eight million fewer premature smoking-related deaths as a result of tobacco control. And smokers who quit added almost 20 years — 19.6, to be exact — to their lives.

Levy notes that in 1964, more than 40 percent of American adults smoked.

Today, 19 percent of adult Americans use cigarettes and smoking is more common among men than women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Levy says the Surgeon General’s report and the tobacco control efforts that followed clearly have made a difference. He calls the report “a watershed event” and believes the ensuing anti-smoking movement is “the most important public health campaign in recent years.”

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