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Surgeon General's Report Dramatically Demonstrates Immediate Harm from Smoking and Secondhand Smoke

Report Underscores Need for Urgent Action by Public and Policy Makers to Protect Health
December 09, 2010

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Surgeon General's report released today provides dramatic new evidence that smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke cause immediate harm to the human body, triggering physical changes that lead to cancer, heart attacks, lung disease and many other serious illnesses, including damage to the reproductive systems of both men and women.

The report also concludes that design changes to cigarettes, such as filter ventilation, flavoring agents and added chemical ingredients, have over time made them more addictive. Today's cigarettes deliver nicotine more efficiently to the brain, addicting kids more quickly and making it harder for smokers to quit. The tobacco industry's decades-long effort to finely engineer cigarettes, along with its use of deceptive (and now-banned) cigarette descriptions such as 'light' and 'low-tar,' have undermined smoking prevention and cessation efforts, the report says.

Nearly 50 years after the first Surgeon General's report on tobacco was released in 1964, this latest report is a stark reminder of how lethal and addictive smoking truly is, with every cigarette doing you damage. It sends an unmistakable message to elected officials at all levels that reducing smoking is one of the most effective actions we can take to improve the nation's health and prevent some of the most deadly and costly diseases in our society.

The report also sends important messages to America's kids and smokers. If you do not smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, try to quit immediately and get the help you need to succeed. This is true not only for regular smokers, but also for the 22 percent of smokers who do not smoke every day and to those who consider themselves only 'social' smokers and may think they are not at risk. This report's message is clear: You are at risk. There is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke, and you don't have to be a heavy or long-time smoker to develop a smoking-related disease.

The report underscores the importance of actions that we know work to prevent kids from starting to smoke, help smokers quit and protect everyone's right to breathe clean air, free of the hundreds of toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke. Despite progress in making workplaces and public spaces smoke-free, four in ten non-smokers — and more than half of children between 3 and 11 — are still exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No one should have to breathe secondhand smoke at work or in public places, and parents should ensure that homes, cars and other places frequented by children are smoke-free.

Federal, state and local policymakers must redouble their efforts to implement proven measures that reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

The federal government must fund and aggressively implement the new tobacco prevention plan that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last month. The plan includes a national media campaign to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit; expanded assistance and health insurance coverage for smokers trying to quit; effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing; and accelerated research to enhance strategies to reduce tobacco use.

The Food and Drug Administration must continue to vigorously exercise its new authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products to keep these harmful products away from our children and reduce their devastating effects on public health.

The states must step up their efforts to reduce tobacco use by increasing tobacco taxes, enacting smoke-free workplace laws and fully funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs at levels recommended by the CDC. Unfortunately, states have slashed funding for tobacco prevention programs by 28 percent in the past three years and now fund such programs at the lowest level since 1999, when they first received funds from the settlement of state lawsuits against the tobacco industry. The states this year (Fiscal Year 2011) will collect $25.3 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only two percent of it — $517.9 million — on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

The Surgeon General's report details the serious health effects of even brief exposure to tobacco smoke. It concludes that:

  • Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and compounds, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 70 that cause cancer.
  • Every exposure to the cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage DNA in a way that leads to cancer.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke has an immediate adverse impact on the cardiovascular system, damaging blood vessels, making blood more likely to clot and increasing risks for heart attack and stroke.
  • Smoking makes it harder for women to get pregnant and can cause miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight. It also harms male fertility.

The Surgeon General's report provides the grim details of how tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans each year and costs almost $100 billion in health care expenditures. It underscores the need for political will and urgent action to win the fight against tobacco.

The report, titled 'How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease,' can be found at: