The U.S. Surgeon General is continuing to add to the official list of diseases caused by smoking cigarettes nearly 50 years after the government first issued a report on the link between smoking and deadly disease. This month, Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak added liver cancer, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, age-related macular degeneration, erectile dysfunction and rheumatoid arthritis to the list.
And the list doesn’t end there. The Surgeon General’s new report also stated that smoking has been proven to impair the immune system, worsen asthma, contribute to ectopic pregnancies and cause cleft lips and palates in the children of mothers who smoke. Even in those who don’t smoke, secondhand smoke exposure has been shown to lead to strokes.
While many cases of these conditions are not caused by smoking, the report concluded that smoking impacts nearly every organ in the body and that abstaining from cigarettes could prevent a significant number of these diseases.
The report painted a dark picture of the effects that cigarettes have had on the country over the past 50 years. Over 20 million Americans have been killed by cigarettes since the first Surgeon General report in 1964. About 2.5 million of these were victims of secondhand smoke. The report stated that “more than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States during its history.” Plus, smokers today are actually more likely to suffer from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than they were in 1964, possibly due to changes in ingredients and cigarette design.
There is good news, though. Smoking rates have declined from 42% in 1965 to 18% in 2012 and there are currently more former smokers in the U.S. than current smokers. Moreover, the report cited multiple successful strategies for reducing smoking rates, including smoke-free indoor air policies, increases in cigarette taxes and anti-smoking media campaigns. The dramatic decline in smoking rates has been lauded as one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century.