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Article by UW-Madison expert highlights 50th anniversary of surgeon general’s smoking report

January 7, 2014

An article co-authored by the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Dr. Michael Fiore marking the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. surgeon general’s report on smoking was published Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Michael Fiore

Michael Fiore

The article also makes recommendations on key policy changes needed to end disease and death caused by tobacco use.

The JAMA article, co-written by Fiore, director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention and JAMA Editor Helene Cole, notes the secrecy surrounding the initial Surgeon General’s report, “Smoking and Health,” and the decision to release it on a Saturday to minimize the effects on the financial markets. The report fundamentally changed the way Americans viewed tobacco.

The authors recommend key policy changes, such as increasing tobacco taxes, along with stronger application of FDA regulation of tobacco products – including that of cigars and e-cigarettes, more universal treatment of patients who use tobacco, and massive public health campaigns. The FDA announced it will spend $300 million in 2014 on ads to convince teens to be tobacco free. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also plans to continue ads from its “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign.

A new report of the U.S. Surgeon General will be released Thursday, Jan. 16 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. According to the CDC, 18 percent of Americans still smoke, and 440,000 die from tobacco use each year. In contrast, 43 percent of Americans smoked in 1964 when the original report was released.

Today, 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit. They can call the National Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free help to quit tobacco use.

In 1964, then U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry released the initial report, connecting tobacco use to disease and death for the first time in a federal publication. On the basis of more than 7,000 scientific articles relating smoking to disease, the Advisory Committee concluded that cigarette smoking was:

• A cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men

• A probable cause of lung cancer in women

• The most important cause of chronic bronchitis

The report was so momentous that its content was kept secret leading up to the news conference, and copies of the report were held under tight security. The Advisory Committee members, many of whom smoked, labeled smoking a habit.

The term stuck until 1989 when U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop redefined smoking as an addiction.