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Surgeon general projects many children will die prematurely unless current smoking rates drop

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 10:44 a.m. CDT

Approximately 5.6 million American children will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases unless the current smoking rates drop, according to a new Surgeon General’s Report. 

The report, “The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress,” calls the epidemic of cigarette smoking over the last century an enormous and avoidable public health tragedy. In just the last 50 years, 20 million Americans have died because of smoking. The new report updates estimates on the human and financial tolls of the cigarette smoking epidemic, finding that it kills close to half a million Americans a year and costs more than $289 billion a year in direct medical care and economic loss.  

This report comes 50 years after the first Surgeon General’s Report, which concluded cigarette smoking causes lung cancer in men. Since that 1964 report, evidence has linked smoking to diseases of nearly all the body’s organs. And the current report establishes more new links, finding that cigarette smoking causes diabetes, colorectal cancer and liver cancer. The report also explains smokers today have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than they did in 1964, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes. Changes in the design and composition of cigarettes may have contributed to this increase in risk. At least 70 of the chemicals in cigarette smoke are known carcinogens. 

New findings in this report conclude smoking causes rheumatoid arthritis and immune system weakness, increased risk for tuberculosis disease and death from TB, ectopic pregnancy and impaired fertility, cleft lip and cleft palates in babies of women who smoke during early pregnancy, erectile dysfunction in men, age-related macular degeneration and increases the failure rate of cancer treatment. The report concludes secondhand smoke exposure is now known to cause strokes in nonsmokers. The report finds tobacco control efforts have averted at least 8 million early deaths since 1965, but that these evidence-based tobacco control interventions continue to be underutilized.

Studies show about 70 percent of all smokers want to quit. They can get free help by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visiting www.smokefree.gov.  To read the full report go to www.SurgeonGeneral.gov.

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