May. 27 2004
Washington, DC — Forty years after the first Surgeon General’s report found that smoking causes lung cancer, the latest Surgeon General’s report released today finds that smoking is even more destructive to the human body and the nation’s health than previously thought. This latest report adds nine more diseases, many of them life-threatening, to the already long list of diseases that science has shown are caused by smoking. It finds that smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, damages virtually every organ in the body, and harms the health of people at every stage of life, including unborn babies, infants, children, adolescents, adults and seniors. It is a stark reminder that reducing smoking is the most significant action we can take to prevent some of the most lethal and frightening diseases in our society, especially cancer, heart disease and lung disease.
It is mind-boggling that a product as destructive to the human body as the cigarette remains almost completely unregulated to protect health and safety. This report should spur President Bush and Congressional leaders to immediately endorse and work to enact into law the bipartisan legislation introduced last week to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products. Instead, the House leadership is concocting another backroom deal to protect the tobacco industry while deliberately avoiding any action that would reduce the death toll from tobacco use. As part of an effort that would take the pressure off to consider FDA legislation, the House leadership is advancing a plan to attach a tobacco buyout to corporate tax legislation (the FSC/ETI bill) that will be considered in early June. This proposal would benefit tobacco companies more than tobacco farmers and do absolutely nothing to protect public health. It seems that the political contributions of the cigarette manufacturers matter more than the lives destroyed by their deadly products.
The Surgeon General’s report, along with a separate report on adult smoking rates released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also underscores the urgent need to expand and improve tobacco cessation services to help smokers quit. The CDC reports that adult smoking declined only 1.3 percent from 2001 to 2002, from 22.8 percent to 22.5 percent of the adult population. Quitting smoking has immediate as well as long-term health benefits, but most smokers need help breaking their addiction.
Despite recommendations by its own expert scientific advisory committee to implement a National Action Plan to help smokers quit, the Administration has failed to implement most elements of this plan or to devote new resources to doing so. The plan calls for increasing the federal cigarette tax by $2 per pack and using at least half the revenue for smoking cessation initiatives, including a national telephone quitline through which smokers could obtain cessation medication and counseling, a national media campaign to encourage cessation, and coverage for smoking-cessation therapies under federally funded health care programs like Medicaid and Medicare. The Administration has rejected the cigarette tax increase and announced support only for the quitline proposal without identifying new funding for it.
States and communities have done more to reduce smoking, but not nearly enough. A handful of states have shown that we can dramatically reduce smoking among both youth and adults by implementing comprehensive, science-based measures, including tobacco prevention and cessation programs, tobacco tax increases that discourage consumption, and smoke-free workplaces and public places that protect everyone from secondhand smoke. Providing some of the strongest evidence to date that these solutions work, especially when implemented together, New York City recently reported a one-year decline in adult smoking rates of 11 percent, which is far greater than the national decline.
But these solutions have been applied unevenly and sporadically. It is public health malpractice that only four states currently fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at even the minimum levels recommended by the CDC. Despite collecting record amounts of revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, states have cut funding for their tobacco prevention programs by more than a quarter over the past two years. As states emerge from recent budget shortfalls, they have an obligation to use their tobacco revenue to restore and increase funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
What is most disturbing about this report is the wide gulf between the devastation caused by smoking and what our country is doing to reduce it. We know what works to reduce cancer, heart disease, lung disease and the myriad other diseases caused by tobacco use. But elected officials have failed to implement these solutions with a level of commitment and resources that even remotely approach the scope of the problem. What’s missing is the political will to act.
(The new Surgeon General’s report expands the list of diseases caused by smoking to include abdominal aortic aneurysm, acute myeloid leukemia, cataract, cervical cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, pneumonia, periodontitis, and stomach cancer. The report and related materials can be found at www.cdc.gov/tobacco and www.surgeongeneral.gov.)