October 31, 2014

Surgeon general’s report was milestone

This weekend marks a momentous anniversary in the war on tobacco. Fifty years ago the U.S. Surgeon General released the first report on tobacco. Dr. Steven Brown is a pulmonologist and volunteer with the American Lung Association in Wisconsin.

“I was the first formal recognition by a governmental agency that cigarettes are harmful,” he said. “This was a report that was not to the tobacco companies, and it wasn’t a report to the doctors. This was a report to the masses.

The report was released to a public in which nearly half of adults smoked. “In the 1960s, would wold walk into a bank, and the bank tellers would be smoking cigarettes while dispensing money. Teachers would be smoking in classrooms. People were smoking on airplanes. People would hand out cigarettes as party favors,” Brown recalled.

Not surprisingly, the release of the report by Surgeon General Luther Terry on January 11, 1964, put the tobacco industry on the defensive. “The tobacco companies were in an uproar about this,” Brown said. “There was all sorts of denial.”

That continued well into the 1990s, even as adult smoking continued to drop, to its current level of just eighteen percent. Brown thinks we can do even better. “The goal is to cut that smoking rate down from eighteen percent to ten percent or less over the next decade,” he said.

The Lung Association and other groups also hope to see reduced exposure to secondhand smoke, and to ultimately eliminate tobacco caused disease and death.