Cigarettes flame out as more quit smoking

Source: The Telegraph

Millions of Americans mulled new year’s resolutions this week. Some were made — and broken — before sunset. But thousands will resolve to quit smoking and stick to it.

We know that because the proportion of Americans who smoke cigarettes has cratered to a new low, according to a recent survey from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 42.1 million people — 17.8 percent of American adults — smoked in 2013, the survey said. That’s down from 21.6 percent in 2003 and the lowest percentage since the federal government began tracking smoking rates in 1965.

This is one of the greatest public health triumphs in American history, saving millions of lives.

Back in 1965, more than half of American men and a third of American women smoked. Today, 1 in 5 men and 1 in 6 women smokes.

Fewer people are lighting up every day, and if they do, they’re smoking fewer cigarettes.

Think about how fast this has happened. In 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry cleared away the smoke and ignited a revolution: His report told Americans that cigarettes caused cancer and other illnesses. No qualifiers. No doubt.

A few days after its publication, many newspapers weren’t so sold when they weighed in: “… While the report on smoking can be accepted as interesting and informative, we do not think there is any reason for anyone to get hysterical, especially the government or some of the most zealous crusaders against smoking in Congress.”

Well, OK, we don’t always get it right the first time.

The surgeon general’s report frightened and angered millions of Americans. People started to scale back or quit almost immediately. Cigarette smoking, which had hit new highs in 1963, started to taper off. In the first 10 months after the report, cigarette production fell 3 percent, the Tribune estimated.

The evidence that smoking kills piled up. Two decades after the surgeon general’s landmark report, airplane cabins started going smoke-free. And workplaces and other public spaces, including lobbies, taxicabs and restrooms.

Not even a decade ago, some Illinois cities argued about whether restaurants and bars should join the trend, whether smokers had a right to light up in privately owned spaces, whether restaurateurs or local municipalities should set their own rules. Anti-smoking forces prevailed. Illinois lawmakers followed with a statewide smoking ban in restaurants and bars. Earlier this year, the Chicago Park District outlawed smoking in Chicago’s parks and harbors, expanding a 2007 smoking ban at Chicago’s beaches and playgrounds.

Surveys show that almost every smoker has tried to stop. Often repeatedly. The fewer places to light up, the higher the prices on cigarettes, the better the chance that more people will quit.

One worrisome trend: More teenagers are lighting up electronic cigarettes. The health risks of e-cigarettes aren’t yet fully established, even though most experts agree they are likely to be less harmful that regular cigarettes. However, there is another risk: E-cigarettes could make smoking seem normal, even acceptable again. It isn’t. The best role for e-cigarettes: Helping regular cigarette smokers gradually taper off.

Our hope for a headline on New Year’s Day 2064, a century after the surgeon general’s report: “Last smoker in America quits.”

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