Surgeon General’s Report: After 50 Years, New Harms of Smoking Still Emerging

“Cigarette smoking is causally related to lung cancer in men; the magnitude of the effect of cigarette smoking outweighs all other factors; and the risk of developing lung cancer increases with the duration of smoking and number of cigarettes smoked per day, and diminishes by discontinuing smoking.”

This statement from the 1964 landmark surgeon general’s report on smoking—the first public announcement of the negative health consequences of smoking—changed the world’s perception of a centuries-old habit. Now, 50 years later, the new information gained from new research continues to be staggering.

The 2014 surgeon general’s report on “The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress”, released last Friday, presented some notable new conclusions since the last report in 2012, including new evidence that

  • smoking causes liver cancer,
  • smoking causes colon cancer,
  • smoking causes diabetes,
  • smoking causes rheumatoid arthritis and general inflammation in the body,
  • secondhand smoke causes stroke.

The report also puts a new focus on women. Although men were disproportionately affected by smoking-related harms at the time the 1964 report was released, the new report noted that women are now as likely as men to die from smoking-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.

Since 1964, 31 previous surgeon general’s reports on smoking have chronicled the growing body of evidence about its widespread adverse effects. The 1986 report concluded that secondhand smoke was dangerous to nonsmokers, the 1988 report declared nicotine to be an addictive substance, and the 2004 report laid out evidence that smoking negatively affects nearly every organ of the body.

Now, in 2014, the trend continues. In the figure below, taken from the report, the new diseases causally linked to smoking are highlighted in red:

Health consequences causally linked to smoking. Conditions in red are new diseases that have been causally linked to smoking in the 2014 report. Source: USDHHS 2004, 2006, 2012.

Health consequences causally linked to smoking. Conditions in red are new diseases that have been causally linked to smoking in the 2014 report. Source: USDHHS 2004, 2006, 2012.

Even though the percentage of smokers among the US population has declined from 42% in 1965 to 18% in 2012, more than 42 million Americans still smoke. The report calls for “dramatic action” to accelerate the current rate of tobacco control in the United States, and highlights the US Department of Health and Human Services’ endgame plan for ways to accomplish this.



Categories: Public Health, Tobacco