Yale University

A study from Yale University found that some eight million premature deaths have been adverted as a result of anti-smoking measures which first began 50 years ago with the groundbreaking report from the Surgeon General outlining the deadly consequences of tobacco use.

In 1964, the then Surgeon General Luther Terry dropped a bombshell that made a lot of waves across the country – officially tobacco was recognized as being severely harmful to health, causing premature death. Terry convened a committee of specialists who reviewed some 7,000 scientific articles and worked with more than 150 consultants to formulate the report’s findings.

The seminal report sparked a series of measures which steadily, but surely curbed down on smoking, including the now-familiar Surgeon General’s warning on the side of cigarette packages, as well as increased taxation, restrictions on advertising, and limiting public areas where people can smoke, along with programs and products to help people kick their smoking habit.

Theodore R. Holford, professor of biostatistics and member of Yale Cancer Center, along with colleagues at the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network, looked at data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics from 1965 to 2009, and used these to recreate smoking life history summaries for groups born each year starting in 1890 . A mathematical model was used to calculate mortality rates by smoking status, which helped them estimate how many people would have died prematurely had we lived in world where there was no official anti-smoking practices.

“Smoking Kills”

Some 8 million lives have been saved in U.S. as a result of increasingly stringent tobacco-control measures that commenced with the report’s Jan. 11, 1964, the report concludes. Of the lives saved, approximately 5.3 million were men and 2.7 million were women. The total number of saved lives translates into an estimated 157 million years of life, a mean of 19.6 years for each beneficiary, report the researchers.

“An estimated 31% of premature deaths were avoided by this effort, but even more encouraging is the steady progress that was achieved over the past half-century, beginning with a modest 11% in the first decade to 48% of the estimate what we would have seen from 2004 to 2012 in the absence of tobacco control,” said Holford. “Today, a 40-year-old man can expect on average to live 7.8 years longer than he would have in 1964, and 30% of that improvement can be attributed to tobacco control. The gains for women have been slightly less, 5.4 years, but tobacco control accounts for 29% of that benefit.”

Even so, hundreds of thousands of lives annually are claimed by the the single largest cause of preventable death in the United States. There are still an estimated 44 million Americans who smoke, or about 20% of the U.S. population.

“Tobacco control has been a great success story for public health. We have essentially cut in half the number of tobacco-related deaths each year compared to what would have occurred in the absence of this effort. This is very encouraging, but the halfway point also means that there is more to be done,” said Holford.

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