HomeWashington Letter2014 ▶ 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking
50th Anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking

January 2014

Today the White House, the Acting U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control held a joint press conference to commemorate the 50 th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General's report on smoking and to issue an updated report on tobacco use. The report renewed the public health services call to action to address tobacco use in the U.S and worldwide.

Read the full report

While the report is a comprehensive review of the health effects of tobacco use and strategies to reduce tobacco addiction, the report presents 10 key findings:

  1. The century-long epidemic of cigarette smoking has caused an enormous avoidable public health tragedy. Since the first Surgeon General's report in 1964 more than 20 million premature deaths can be attributed to cigarette smoking.
  2. The tobacco epidemic was initiated and has been sustained by the aggressive strategies of the tobacco industry, which has deliberately misled the public on the risks of smoking cigarettes.
  3. Since the 1964 Surgeon General's report, cigarette smoking has been causally linked to diseases of nearly all organs of the body, to diminished health status, and to harm to the fetus. Even 50 years after the first Surgeon General's report, research continues to newly identify diseases caused by smoking, including such common diseases as diabetes mellitus, rheuma­toid arthritis, and colorectal cancer.
  4. Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke has been causally linked to cancer, respiratory, and cardiovas­cular diseases, and to adverse effects on the health of infants and children.
  5. The disease risks from smoking by women have risen sharply over the last 50 years and are now equal to those for men for lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular diseases.
  6. In addition to causing multiple diseases, cigarette smoking has many adverse effects on the body, such as causing inflammation and impairing immune function.
  7. Although cigarette smoking has declined signifi­cantly since 1964, very large disparities in tobacco use remain across groups defined by race, ethnicity, edu­cational level, and socioeconomic status and across regions of the country.
  8. Since the 1964 Surgeon General's report, compre­hensive tobacco control programs and policies have been proven effective for controlling tobacco use. Further gains can be made with the full, forceful, and sustained use of these measures.
  9. The burden of death and disease from tobacco use in the United States is overwhelmingly caused by ciga­rettes and other combusted tobacco products; rapid elimination of their use will dramatically reduce this burden.
  10. For 50 years the Surgeon General's reports on smok­ing and health have provided a critical scientific foun­dation for public health action directed at reducing tobacco use and preventing tobacco-related disease and premature death.

To members of the American Thoracic Society, none of these findings are shocking, and they only reinforce our belief that more must be done help current smokers quit and prevent future smokers from ever starting. The ATS notes that two pending policy actions from the FDA could make a substantial impact on tobacco use in the U.S. The first is the FDA taking action to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor. Two federal reports have already documented the role menthol plays in encouraging smoking initiation, masking the unpleasant effects of smoking, and how menthol flavoring makes it harder to quit. The FDA has released an advanced notice of a proposed rule seeking public comment on how the FDA should address menthol flavoring. The submitted comments to the FDA urge the agency to take quick action to ban menthol flavoring.

The second major action the FDA can take is to extend its regulatory authority over all tobacco products, including cigars and e-cigarettes. FDA has drafted a proposed rule that is currently at the White House awaiting final clearance. The ATS has met with White House officials and has strongly urged them to quickly move forward with this proposed rule for the FDA to effectively regulate all tobacco products. Public release of an FDA proposed rule for all tobacco products is expected in the near future.

Last Reviewed: October 2017