A picture of Senator Tom Harkin
Thomas H.
Former Democrat IA
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    First Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health

    by Former Senator Tom Harkin

    Posted on 2014-01-15

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    HARKIN. Mr. President, on January 11, 1964, 50 years ago this week, Dr. Luther Terry released the landmark Surgeon General's report-- the first of its kind--on smoking and health. The report established conclusive links between smoking and lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, coronary heart disease, low fetal birthweight among women who smoked during pregnancy, and an overall 70 percent increase in the early mortality rate of smokers over nonsmokers. Today I would like to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of Dr. Luther in issuing that report. I want to applaud the historic, life-saving accomplishments that stemmed from it. And yes, I want to call attention to the work we have remaining in front of us to end the scourge of tobacco use once and for all.

    Mr. President, this 50th anniversary gives us an opportunity to reflect on one of the monumental public health successes of our time. New research released just last week reports that, from 1964 to 2012, at least 8 million premature, smoking-related deaths were prevented. That's eight million Americans who otherwise may not have lived long enough to see their kids graduate from high school, to meet their grandchildren, or to enjoy retirement. In fact, among these 8 million people, they lived an extra 20 years, on average.

    Successful tobacco prevention programs have led to dramatic reductions in smoking rates. In 1964, about 42 percent of all American adults smoked tobacco on a regular basis. By 2012, that number plummeted to 18 percent.

    The Surgeon General's report also served as an important catalyst for new research at Federal agencies on the effects of smoking--agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the National Institutes of Health.

    Thanks to this research, we now know that smoking can damage almost every organ in the body; is implicated in at least 18 different types of cancer; is a major contributor to heart disease; can cause complications with pregnancy and prenatal development; and contributes to and exacerbates a host of other medical conditions. We also better understand the addictive nature of tobacco, and how to support our friends and loved ones who want to quit--because we also know that 7 out of 10 current smokers want to quit.

    Because the Surgeon General's report brought into the American consciousness just how dangerous smoking really is, we have made great strides in elevating smoking prevention as a national priority. Thirty states, as well as Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, plus hundreds of cities and counties, have enacted strong smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars. At times, the days of smoky airplanes and conference rooms seem a blessedly distant memory.

    In 1998, I was proud to introduce the first comprehensive, bipartisan bill to give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco--the precursor to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which finally gave FDA that critical authority in 2009, along with banning candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes, and misleading health claims such as ``light'' and ``low-tar.'' Tobacco companies are now required to disclose the contents of tobacco products, and the FDA is empowered to require changes in tobacco products. There is perhaps nothing that will more significantly amplify our efforts to reduce tobacco use than FDA's full implementation of this historic legislation.

    The Affordable Care Act marked another turning point in the fight against tobacco, guaranteeing all Americans access to cost-free tobacco cessation services, and creating the Prevention and Public Health Fund--which has already supported more than $200,000,000 in lifesaving tobacco prevention and control work. I am proud of the work I did to include those provisions in the health reform law, and I am confident that we will continue to see decreases in the rates of smoking for years to come as a result.

    Yet even as we celebrate the success of these efforts, we cannot forget that our work is not done. In the last 50 [[Page S364]] years, at least 17.6 million deaths in this country were attributable to smoking, and 440,000 lives are claimed by smoking each year. In fact, smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined. Furthermore, more than 3,000 kids in the United States try their first cigarette every day, 700 of whom will become daily smokers into adulthood. In total, this results in more than 250,000 new underage daily smokers in the U.S. annually. The numbers are clear: the battle against the harm caused by tobacco use is far from over, and we need to do more to protect vulnerable youth from becoming addicted to tobacco.

    With these remaining challenges in front of us, it's never been more important that we continue to make strides in tobacco prevention through innovative approaches, bold policies and programs, and a strengthened and sustained investment in public health. Today, in both the public and private sectors, we are continuing to make progress by expanding the number of smoke-free environments, supporting cutting- edge research on the effects of smoking, cracking down on unethical marketing practices, and using technology and social media to help people quit smoking. Tobacco prevention simply must remain a top public health priority.

    As we reflect on these accomplishments on this 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General's report on smoking and health, I urge my colleagues to continue this fight, so that 50 years hence, Americans will be able to look back on a full century of amazing progress in the fight against smoking and tobacco-related illnesses.


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