Conclusions from the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report

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0910ddb5050e4cf0bd2a741f17669c1cThe first surgeon general’s report to warn of the dangers of smoking came out half a century ago in 1964.  Since then, researchers have linked complications with nearly every organ in the human body to smoking.  In that time more than 20 million premature deaths have been linked to smoking.

Here’s some of the major conclusions from the 2014 report and a bit of our own spin.  This report is certainly not without its own spin too.

The century-long epidemic of cigarette smoking has caused an enormous avoidable public health tragedy.  Since the first Surgeon General’s report in 1964 more than 20 million premature deaths can be attributed to cigarette smoking.  As unfortunate as this is, this is probably not an exaggeration.  Smoking remains the single largest “avoidable” cause of death on the planet.  We say “avoidable” because with proper healthcare infrastructure, innovation, and support, almost any cause of death could be deemed “avoidable.”  Unfortunately addiction is a much more powerful complication than modern science can reliably deal with.

The tobacco epidemic was initiated and has been sustained by the aggressive strategies of the tobacco industry, which has deliberately misled the public on the risks of smoking cigarettes.  Although the olden days of tobacco advertising and marketing did prove to be of dubious character, in more recent years the tobacco companies have been a bit more honest about what they do and who they sell to.  They go out of their way to say that non-smokers shouldn’t start the habit and that those that do smoke are far more likely to develop lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases.  Big Tobacco stands behind one stern message: “There is no safe cigarette.”  In many instances, Big Tobacco has conducted itself with more honesty in recent years than certain anti-smoking groups.

health-101111-001-617x416Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report, cigarette smoking has been causally linked to diseases of nearly all organs of the body, to diminished health status, and to harm to the fetus.  Even 50 years after the first Surgeon General’s report, research continues to newly identify diseases caused by smoking, including such common diseases as diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, and colorectal cancer.  Cigarette smoke is a very complicated mixture of somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 constituents.  It is so complex that despite 5 decades of research, we know less about it than we do electronic cigarette vapor — which we’ve only studies across the last 5 years.  Cigarette smoke is nasty stuff — and it is the single reason why giving people the ability to obtain nicotine through inhalation without the smoke is such a promising prospect for harm reduction.

Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke has been causally linked to cancer, respiratory, and cardiovascular diseases, and to adverse effects on the health of infants and children.  Again, cigarette smoke is nasty stuff.  Research has found that cigarette smoke lingers for around 19-20 minutes before it dissipates.  This is plenty of time for bystanders to inhale it and, over the long term, can have some adverse effects.  Electronic cigarette vapor, however, begins dissipating at around 10-11 seconds.  Even in that time, the magnitude of constituents in vapor is so low it poses no apparent threat.

snus_1481910cSince the 1964 Surgeon General’s report, comprehensive tobacco control programs and policies have been proven effective for controlling tobacco use.  Further gains can be made with the full, forceful, and sustained use of these measures.  Anti-smoking campaigns have certainly had an impact, but data has suggested that the effects of these efforts have dramatically diminishing returns at around the 18-20% smoking rate.  Basically, there’s a certain percentage of people that will smoke no matter how tough you make it on them.  Sweden — for instance — was the only country to achieve the World Health Organization’s year 2000 goal of less than 20% daily smoking prevalence.  The country did so by supporting a smokeless tobacco product called snus — with like electronic cigarettes is estimated to be around 99% less harmful than smoking simply because there’s no smoke.  Basically, people need a more viable replacement for their cigarettes.  Telling them it’s bad for them, secluding them to roped off smoking areas, and taxing the crap out of them only gets you so far.

You can check out the rest of the conclusions from page 7 and on of the report.  You may well learn something about smoking that you didn’t already know.

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