Top lessons from 50 years of fighting the tobacco industry
This month's 50th anniversary of the First Surgeon General's Report onSmoking and Health provides a bittersweet reminder of the promise and the limitations of public health activism to curb corporate promotion of behaviors and lifestyles associated with premature death and preventable illness and injury. In the half century since the report was released, the proportion of Americans who smoke has been cut in half. Anew report in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that tobacco control efforts in the United States have prevented 8 million premature deaths and extended the average lifespan by on average almost 20 years of life for the people who did not take up smoking because of prevention campaigns, higher tobacco taxes or smoking bans. Overall, the success in reducing tobacco use has added 2.3 years to the life of the average American man and 1.6 years to the average American woman.
But this progress could have been achieved in far less time had notevery preventive policy been opposed by the tobacco industry and had politicians beholden to the tobacco lobby severed these ties more quickly. These delays doomed many more to tobacco-related illnesses. And despite the progress in this country, the estimated toll from tobacco in this century is 1 billion premature deaths, more than 10 times the toll for the 20th century. The main reason so many more people will fall ill and die painful, early tobacco-related deaths is that the tobacco industry has adapted the lessons on marketing and undermining regulation that it learned in the United States to emerging markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America.