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Letter: More people dying from tobacco use today

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Note: The statements, views, and opinions contained in this letter to the editor are those of the author and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of The Republic.

From: Stephanie Womack


Recently, the Office of the Surgeon General released its 32nd tobacco-related report, marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 report that warned the public about the dangers of tobacco use. The latest report offers some highlights of the past 50 years of tobacco control and prevention. It also offers some opportunities to further move the dial on the tobacco epidemic in the United States.

The report proves that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable and avoidable death in the U.S. Since the 1964 report, more than 20 million Americans have died because of smoking; 2.5 million of those deaths have been among nonsmokers who died from secondhand smoke exposure. Furthermore, more than 100,000 babies have died in the last 50 years from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other complications related to parental smoking.

Despite smoking rates among adults and teens being half of what they were in 1964, 42 million American adults and about 3 million middle and high school students continue to smoke. In Indiana, this translates to about 151,000 children who are alive today dying prematurely.

Even though today’s smokers are smoking less, they are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer due to the tobacco industry’s manipulation of design and composition of the combustible cigarette. Evidence from the report suggest that ventilated filters may have contributed to high risks of lung cancer by enabling smokers to inhale more vigorously, thereby drawing carcinogens more deeply into lung tissue.

The distressing part about all of this is that most public health officials know what actions need to be taken to eliminate the use of cigarettes and other combustible, or burned, tobacco products, yet they are ignored or underused.

What is known to work to prevent smoking initiation and promote quitting includes hard-hitting media campaigns, tobacco excise taxes at sufficiently high rates to deter youth smoking and promote quitting, easy-to-access cessation treatment in clinical settings, smoke-free policies, and comprehensive statewide tobacco control programs funded at the CDC-recommended levels.

Today, we have more tools than in 1964 to really work toward a tobacco-free society or a tobacco-free generation. We see the FDA has stepped up to produce media campaigns aimed at youths, and the CDC is running another round of its ads that feature former smokers. And the retail market for cigarettes is changing.

CVS Caremark, the nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain, announced it will phase out the sale of tobacco products in its drugstores. For our dreams to become reality, we must educate ourselves and policymakers about the true burden of tobacco and be bold in our efforts to stand up for the next generation.

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