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RI House Recognizes 50th Anniversary of Surgeon General's Report on Smoking

by Megan T. on Friday, January 17, 2014

From the State House...special thanks to Rep. Naughton!

Naughton resolution celebrates 50th anniversary of surgeon general’s 1st report on smoking, health

STATE HOUSE – According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, smoking prevalence has been reduced by more than half since the first surgeon general report on smoking and health was released in 1964. Yet smoking remains a leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States.

Marking the 50th anniversary of this report and keeping in mind tobacco control is still an issue at the forefront of public health policy, Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) proudly introduced a resolution today that celebrates how far the country has come in educating the public about the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke.

“I want to shed light on the fact that it took a lot of people coming together to get where we are today,” Representative Naughton said, “and where we are today is a place where there is science to back up claims about the link between smoking and a host of other illnesses, especially cancer. The dangers of smoking are still very real, and I want to thank our leaders in public health on the local and national level for continuing to spread that message through public education and policy. What we’ve been able to do in these last few decades to protect health and incentivize wellness is truly a marvel. That report and what followed will always be considered a huge milestone in American history when it comes to public health.”

Two years prior to the report, the American Public Health Association, in conjunction with the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the National Tuberculosis Association, addressed a letter to then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and called for a national panel to assess the potential link between smoking and cancer. U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry then assembled a committee, which resulted in a report entitled: “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General.” It made front page news all across the country.

The committee, after reviewing thousands of documents and studies, pinned cigarette smoking as the cause of a 70 percent rise in the mortality rate of smokers over non-smokers. The committee’s findings about smoking’s connection to disease caused a major paradigm shift in the country’s attitude toward cigarette consumption. Evidence of this can be seen in a Gallup poll conducted in 1958, which showed that 44 percent of Americans believed that smoking was the cause of cancer. That number rose to 78 percent four years after the surgeon general published the report. Further cementing public opinion was Congress’ passage of a law in 1965 that required a health warning on all cigarettes distributed in the United States. Additionally, tobacco companies have been banned from advertising on TV and the radio since 1970.

The surgeon general website notes that “no single issue has preoccupied the surgeons general of the past four decades more than smoking. The reports of the surgeon general have alerted the nation to the health risk of smoking, and have transformed the issue from one of individual and consumer choice, to one of epidemiology, public health and risk for smokers and non-smokers alike.”

Dr. Michael Fine, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, stated: "The acknowledgment by the United States government that smoking causes disease, and in particular fatal lung cancer, ranks with the chlorination of water, the development of vaccines, and the eradication of smallpox as one of the signal moments in public health. If a lifetime pack-a-day smoker were given a choice in 1964 of a way to increase longevity of either quitting smoking or having free access to the best medical care in the world, there is no question now which would be the right choice. It's quitting smoking. And it all flowed from the surgeon general's report of 1964."

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