Surgeon General Says Smoking Could Be Halved
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Summoning the ``collective will'' to implement proven anti-smoking strategies could halve the U.S. smoking rate in a decade and ultimately eliminate tobacco use, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said on Wednesday.
``Every death from tobacco is a preventable death. It is time to use our collective will to put this blueprint into action,'' Satcher said in releasing a 450-page report summarizing what the federal government knows about tobacco use and control.
A multi-pronged effort to educate the public, regulate tobacco use and tax tobacco products could cut the nation's smoking rate in half by 2010, prolonging as many as 5 million lives and cutting the nation's tobacco-related health bill of as much as $75 billion annually, he said.
In the United States nearly one-quarter of adults smoke, a rate that has stabilized in the past several years after four decades of decline. An even higher proportion of high school and college students say they smoke.
``We hope this report informs, galvanizes and inspires,'' Satcher said at a news conference held during the 11th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, a meeting of 4,500 anti-smoking advocates from 140 countries.
``We hope this sparks discussion, creative ideas and solutions to help all of us in the continuing struggle to vanquish tobacco use and save the health of our citizens in all the corners of the globe,'' he said.
Halving U.S. smoking rates would not be easy to achieve, Satcher said, admitting that a similar goal set in 1990 to cut smoking rates in half to 15 percent this year was not met.
``The message here today is that if we implement these strategies that have proven to be effective we can reach our goal, I'm confident of that,'' he said.
Among the conclusions of the report, entitled ``Reducing Tobacco Use,'' was that smoking rates among adolescents could be reduced by up to 40 percent if school-based, anti-smoking programs were combined with community and media campaigns.
Currently, only 5 percent of U.S. schools follow anti-smoking guidelines created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.
He noted public anti-smoking campaigns are up against the tobacco industry's marketing machine, which spent $6.7 billion in 1998.
Government regulations at all levels that ban indoor smoking and require stronger health warnings would help curb smoking, he said, adding that a key component would be for the Food and Drug Administration to gain regulatory power over tobacco.
President Clinton issued a statement urging Congress to provide the agency with regulatory authority, support initiatives to reduce youth smoking and support the Department of Justice lawsuit against the industry.
``When Congress returns in September, it will have another opportunity to join us in making the health of our children a priority by rejecting the interests of big tobacco and letting the American taxpayers have their day in court,'' Clinton said.
Satcher said he was not ready to recommend cigarette labeling as powerful as that being implemented by Canada, which distributed a sample pack at the Chicago conference featuring an image of the tar-stained, diseased mouth of a smoker.
Another proven method of cutting smoking rates would be to lift prices on cigarettes by increasing taxes on the product. Satcher said a 10 percent price hike can cut adult smoking by up to 5 percent and youth smoking by 7 percent.
He also cited doctors' responsibility as advocates.
``If physicians were only to ask their patients if they smoke and then ask them to quit, without implementing the intense counseling programs and pharmacologic interventions that we know work, there would be a two- to four-fold increase in the quit rate,'' Satcher said.
About 3 percent of adults manage to quit annually.
Besides urging physicians to do more, Satcher also chided the states for not spending more of the $246 billion in tobacco industry settlement money on anti-smoking campaigns. He said only 10 percent of those funds go for that purpose.