Anti-smoking efforts save lives

A new study shows that public health efforts against smoking have saved nearly 800,000 lives over 25 years.
A new study shows that public health efforts against smoking have saved nearly 800,000 lives over 25 years. Photo by Sagar Setru.

In a piece of good news for public health officials, a new study based on a Yale model shows that tobacco control initiatives have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Anti-smoking campaigns and policies prevented almost 800,000 lung cancer deaths in 25 years, according to a study published March 14 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The researchers estimate that without anti-smoking policies, which began in the 1950s, an additional 552,000 men and 243,000 women would have died from lung cancer between 1975 and 2000. But scientists say further policies and awareness campaigns are needed to eliminate tobacco-induced deaths.

“The study shows that tobacco control strategies have saved lives in the United States,” said Theodore Holford GRD ’73, co-author of the study and professor of public health and statistics at Yale. “The proportion of deaths that were averted is about 30 percent of those that could have been.”

The Yale team was one of six research groups that developed independent models to quantify the impact of changes in smoking behaviors on lung cancer mortality rates in the United States. The researchers reconstructed the smoking histories for individuals born between 1890 and 1970 and used that data to analyze the association between smoking and lung cancer deaths.

Combining the results of the models, the study determined that had everyone quit smoking following the Surgeon General’s first report on smoking in 1964, over 2.5 million lung cancer deaths could have been prevented. As it was, 32 percent of those 2.5 million deaths were prevented. The study reported that by 2000, the lung cancer death prevention rate — representing the number of lives saved over the number that could be saved if everyone stopped smoking — had reached 44 percent.

Holford attributed this acceleration to the success of anti-tobacco efforts, such as advertisements that discourage the consumption of tobacco products by children.

“The estimates in this study are very important to show what we can accomplish [with interventions],” said Kenneth Warner GRD ’74, professor of public health at the University of Michigan. “People tend to assume that the smoking problem has been taken care of, but we have close to a fifth of adults still smoking today.”

Warner added that taxes on tobacco products, laws that create smoke-free spaces and educational media campaigns are the three most effective anti-smoking interventions.

Last Monday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) launched a $54 million, 12-week national anti-tobacco advertising campaign called “Tips from Former Smokers.”

The campaign features people who are living with smoking-related diseases and disabilities, such as 57-year-old Annette who smoked for over 30 years and had a lung removed after being diagnosed with lung cancer at age 52.

“Although they may be tough to watch, the ads show real people living with real, painful consequences from smoking,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in a March 15 press release. “There is sound evidence that supports the use of these types of hard-hitting images and messages to encourage smokers to quit, to keep children from ever beginning to smoke, and to drastically reduce the harm caused by tobacco.”

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and is expected to kill over 160,000 Americans in 2012, according to a January report released by the American Cancer Society.

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