As you may or may not know, January 11, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. As a public health student at the school that founded the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative, you can imagine that I probably know at least something about the public health ramifications of tobacco use. However, many of the facts I’ve learned in the past week have really surprised me and I think they’re important to share.
First of all, Michigan has had (and continues to have) a HUGE influence on tobacco control in America. Public health researchers from Michigan helped to establish the Tobacco Research Network at UM as well as launch the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative, both of which have spurred policy decisions nationwide. UM researchers, in fact, just released a study last week that calculated an estimated 8 million lives have been saved in the U.S. as a result of smoking measures that began as a result of the Surgeon General’s warnings.
Given this tremendous amount of progress, it’s hard to imagine that we still have a long way to go in reducing illness and death from smoking, especially when I compare the smoke-free Michigan campus to my junior semester abroad in Paris, where most of my Parisian peers smoked cigarettes in between every class. Compared to that image, we seem to be doing fine in America, where smoking has become much more controlled and regulated in the last 50 years. That being said, it’s important to face the facts: although 8 million lives were saved as a result of tobacco control policies, 17.6 million Americans have died since 1964 due to smoking related causes, and about 20% of the U.S. population still smokes.
So what can we do? Because of my job at the SPH Marketing and Communications office, I was able to listen in on a national press conference commemorating this occasion that took place last week, and featured prominent SPH researcher Dr. Ken Warner, as well as representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, the Legacy Foundation, American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the Cancer Action Network. These organizations joined together to announce their continued commitment to tobacco control, and outlined three goals to make this happen:
• Reduce smoking rates 10 percent in 10 years or less (10 in 10).
• Eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke in five years.
• Put the United States on a path to eliminate death and disease caused by tobacco, now resulting in one of every five deaths.
Can you imagine a society in which smoking tobacco is largely a thing of the past? It’s hard to do, but the progress already made makes me very hopeful for the future? What do you think? Let me know in the comments, and follow the conversation on Twitter with #SGR50.