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Researchers Say 50 Years of Tobacco Control Extended Lives of 8 Million

Smoking Sign

A research team, including Georgetown professor David Levy, finds that a 1964 U.S. Surgeon General report inspired tobacco control that helped add nearly 20 years of life to 8 million people.

January 7, 2014 – The U.S. Surgeon General’s 1964 report that first detailed smoking dangers and inspired tobacco control added nearly 20 years of life to 8 million people, according to a study whose senior author is a Georgetown researcher.

The National Cancer Institute-funded study will be published in the Jan. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The report and subsequent tobacco control efforts represent the most dramatic and successful public health campaign in modern history, in terms of benefit to the entire population,” says senior author David Levy, a population scientist at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Higher Taxes, Smoke-Free Laws

“In 1964, more than 40 percent Americans adults smoked, and now, 50 years later, less than 20 percent use cigarettes,” he says. “Our research suggests that this dramatic reduction is due to the 1964 Surgeon General’s report and the tobacco control activity that followed.”

The researchers also estimated that 17.6 million deaths over the past 50 years in the United States were related to smoking. Of these deaths, 6.6 million occurred in people under 65, implying a large productivity loss.

“Higher taxes on cigarettes have had the most impact on cessation, and smoke-free air laws — prohibiting smoking indoors — have also been very effective,” Levy says.

Modeling Study

David Levy

David Levy

The group of researchers conducting the study is part of the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network, or CISNET, which uses statistical modeling to improve understanding of cancer control interventions.

The lead investigator of the study is Theodore Holford of the Yale School of Public Health. Researchers from the University of Michigan and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center also participated.

This study was funded through NCI grant number UO1-CA97450-02.


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