The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress, Five Decades of Data

Fifty years after the release of the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health in 1964, remarkable progress has been made. Over the last five decades, smoking prevalence among U.S. adults has been reduced by half. Unfortunately, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. The latest report The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress indicates the nation has seen adult smoking rates fall from about 42% at the time of the first report to about 18% today. Over those five decades, Surgeon General’s reports have utilized the best available evidence to expand our understanding of the health consequences of smoking and involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.

The conclusions from these reports have evolved from a few causal associations in 1964, to a robust body of data and evidence documenting the health consequences from varying levels of tobacco exposure in a range of diseases and organ systems. Numerous kinds of cancer, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and adverse reproductive outcomes are some of the direct consequences of tobacco smoking and second hand smoke inhalation.

The evidence and data used in the report comes from private and public sources including research organizations and multiple departments in the federal government. Highlighting federal resources, the Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) supply data including:

Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of premature disease and death in the United States. On this anniversary of the landmark first ever Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, this nation must rededicate itself not only to carrying forward the successful tobacco control efforts that have long been under way, but also to expanding and accelerating those efforts in full recognition of the challenge that remains.

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