Reflections on the Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health

This month marks an important milestone in public health history—the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. To commemorate the anniversary, the Department of Health and Human Services today released The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. The 2014 report highlights major accomplishments in tobacco prevention and control over the past 50 years, presents new data on the health consequences of smoking, and details initiatives that can end the tobacco use epidemic in the United States.

ReportThe landmark Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health released in 1964 was the first report to definitively link smoking with lung cancer and heart disease and led to an era of local, regional, and national tobacco control interventions. Over the past 50 years, smoking prevalence among U.S. adults has been reduced by more than half, yet tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and globally.

As tobacco use continues to decline in many high-income countries, tobacco companies have begun targeting low- and middle-income countries. The number of smokers in low- and middle-income countries has increased globally, with nearly 80 percent of the world’s one billion smokers living in these countries.

To combat the global tobacco epidemic, the CDC Foundation has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other national and international partners to support implementation of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, Tobacco Questions for Surveys, and the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, all components of the Global Tobacco Surveillance System. The global surveillance efforts, supported by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use*, help countries monitor adult tobacco use, exposure to second-hand smoke, quit attempts, and the effectiveness of key tobacco control measures.

Over the past eight years, the Global Adult Tobacco Survey has been completed in 24 countries, covering almost 4.2 billion people and approximately 65 percent of the world’s adult smokers. Additionally, the Global Adult Tobacco Survey is planned or underway in nine countries. Tobacco Questions Surveys, a globally standardized subset of tobacco questions for use in ongoing national and international surveys, is planned, underway, or completed in more than 30 countries.

Tobacco use caused 100 million premature deaths in the 20th Century. If current global trends continue, it may cause one billion premature and preventable deaths in the 21st century. The efforts of the Global Tobacco Surveillance System partners aim to reduce the global burden of disease by enhancing the capability of countries to design, implement, and evaluate tobacco control interventions. At the CDC Foundation, we’re pleased to support CDC in its efforts to measure and monitor tobacco use, a critical step in an overall effort to save lives worldwide.

*Through the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, financial support for the Global Adult Tobacco Survey and Tobacco Questions Surveys is provided globally by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports several Global Tobacco Surveillance System components in China, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Rachna Chandora, MPH, is associate vice president for the noninfectious disease programs for the CDC Foundation.