January 11, 1964 – The U.S. Surgeon General Issued the First Report Linking Smoking and Health

On this day in 1964, Luther L. Terry, M.D., the 9th Surgeon General of the United States, released the first report on the health consequences of smoking: “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee of the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service.” This report laid the foundation for tobacco control efforts in the United States. At that time, some 42% of American adults smoked tobacco.

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By 2004, the Surgeon General’s office concluded that smoking affects nearly every organ of the body, finding active smoking causally associated with age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, adverse health outcomes in cancer patients and survivors, tuberculosis, erectile dysfunction, orofacial clefts in infants, ectopic pregnancy, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation, and impaired immune function. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke has now been causally associated with an increased risk for stroke.

In 2014, on the fiftieth anniversary of the original report, a new report stated that smoking remains the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S., with some 480,000 people dying each year from smoking-related illnesses. More than 20 million preventable deaths have been attributed to smoking since the first Surgeon General’s report in 1964.

The 2014 report also concluded that each year, $130 billion is spent on direct medical care of adults who smoke, plus $150 billion more in lost productivity due to premature death.

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You can read the original report here and the fifty-year report here.

There is also a large industry in tobacco litigation. Florida has proven especially lucrative for plaintiffs, ever since the Florida Supreme Court decided that the factual findings made by the jury in a 1994 class-action lawsuit case would be binding in future smoking cases heard in Florida. (Findings included that tobacco companies sold cigarettes that were “defective” and “unreasonably dangerous” and concealed the dangers of smoking.)

Here, for example, are the results of verdicts just for the year 2010:

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You can read a brief history of how smoking litigation has developed over time here. More data and statistics on smoking are on the CDC website, here.

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