If you ask people in the United States what health epidemic has been one of the most devastating to the American public, most would not have an answer. In fact, a war has been fought against this epidemic for the past fifty years. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. surgeon general's report that tied tobacco to lung cancer for the first time. Since that time, additional scientific research has added many more health issues to the growing list of smoking’s side effects. The surgeon general, in a recent report, acknowledges that smoking can also lead to diabetes, liver cancer, erectile dysfunction, and ectopic pregnancy.
Watching old TV programs reminds us of how casual and pervasive smoking once was, especially the old game shows. It was not uncommon to see Garry Moore holding a cigarette in his hand as he introduced panelists and contestants. He often was seen taking a drag on a cigarette, and smoke wafted up from ashtrays on the desk in front of him. Dramas from the 1940's and 50's always had characters smoking while onscreen. As the war on smoking and second-hand exposure began, scenarios such as these were verboten. As new evidence emerged about the additive effects of tobacco use, smoking was no longer "cool" or guaranteed a teenager's entry into adulthood.
In the past 50 years since the publication of that first report in 1964, smoking has contributed to the premature deaths of at least 20 million Americans, with 2.5 million of those deaths related to secondhand smoke. However, the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) estimates that anti-tobacco efforts have helped save at least 8 million American lives over the past five decades. With the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and their investment in effective new public health campaigns encouraging people to quit, smoking rates are continuing to drop. The CDC reports that smoking rates in the U.S. recently fell below 20 percent; considered a milestone by health officials.
The president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Matthew Myers, told the Washington Post, “It’s a winnable fight. We actually have the policies and programs to end the tobacco epidemic, and they don’t cost so much they can’t be implemented quickly.” The states' return on investment in the anti-tobacco programs are so cost-effective that some studies have estimated that states’ returns on them can be as high as $50 saved for every $1 spent. This seems a small price to pay for such an important investment.