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Jan 15, 2014

Anti-Smoking Efforts Saved 8 Million Lives—and Counting

On the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s first report on smoking and health, study finds tobacco control efforts have increased life expectancy and saved millions of American lives.

Believe it or not, 50 years have passed since initial warnings from the Surgeon General’s office about the dangers of smoking. Since the first report on smoking and health in 1964, the amount of smokers in the United States has been cut in half and according to a recent study, anti-smoking efforts have saved millions of American lives.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, researchers set out to measure the impact of anti-smoking efforts that have been in motion since the mid-1960s. After analyzing National Health Interview Surveys between 1964 and 2012, researchers were able to estimate the number of deaths avoided and years of life saved during this time—the findings of which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

From 1964 to 2012, researchers estimated that there were a total of 17.7 million deaths in the United States related to smoking. The good news? There would have been 8 million more deaths during this time period if it weren’t for anti-smoking efforts. Further, investigators estimated that former smokers who benefited from such efforts gained nearly two decades of life. And overall, life expectancy increased 7.8 years for men and 5.4 years for women during this time, nearly one-third of which is due to tobacco control efforts.

Findings of this report are extremely encouraging. Through widespread education about the dangers of smoking and innovative laws that help protect the public against secondhand smoke, we’ve made significant progress in cutting down on smoking rates and improving the health of Americans. Smoking rates have been cut in half since the ‘60s, which has saved the lives of as many as 8 million Americans.

Still, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States, leaving much room for improvement. We’ve come a long way since the Surgeon General’s first report on smoking and health, but continued efforts are needed to help eliminate the impact that tobacco has on the health of Americans.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why does smoking increase risk for heart disease?

  • Smoking causes plaque build up in the arteries, which reduces the flow of blood to the heart and body, increasing blood pressure. Over time, this can put an extreme strain on the heart and other parts of the body.
  • Why is it so hard to quit smoking?

  • According to, smokers face both a physical addiction and a psychological addiction. The physical addiction comes from the way nicotine acts on the brain cells to create a feeling of pleasure and alertness. Unfortunately, your body clears away the nicotine in about 30 minutes, leaving you tired, jittery—and craving another cigarette.

    The psychological addiction comes from both habits that are hard to break and the positive feelings some people associate with smoking. For example, if you smoke a cigarette every morning when you first wake up, your brain comes to associate waking up with smoking, and you will automatically crave a cigarette first thing in the morning. This habit is made even stronger by the physical pleasure you feel when nicotine hits your brain. The other part of psychological addiction is the way smoking makes some people feel about themselves: cool, hip, relaxed. Getting through certain social situations without a cigarette can be difficult.
  • How should I prepare for "quit day?"

  • Getting ready to quit smoking is just as important as the actual "quit day." Here are some steps you can take:

    • Talk to your doctor not only about stop-smoking medications, but also about how quitting smoking may affect other medications you’re taking.
    • Arrange for a support system to help you at home, at work and in your social life.
    • Keep a record of when you smoke and why. This will help you identify triggers to smoking. Once you know your triggers, you can plan how to cope with them without smoking.

    Make quit day a big deal by starting fresh in lots of ways:

    • Throw away all of your cigarettes. Check all of your hiding places to make sure you get rid of every last one.
    • Get rid of your ashtrays.
    • Clean your house and wash your clothes to remove the cigarette smell.
    • Cut down on your caffeine intake starting several days before quit day. Nicotine makes your body metabolize caffeine more quickly. Once you stop smoking, you’ll feel jittery and nervous if you keep drinking the same amount of caffeine.
    • Drink lots of water.
    • Get some exercise. You’ll feel better and it will keep your mind off smoking.


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