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On anniversary of first surgeon general report, stop smoking efforts still going strong

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MASSENA - This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, and St. Lawrence County’s tobacco program coordinator says, five decades later, they’re still trying to spread the word about the dangers of tobacco.

The campaign has had its successes, Benjamin R. Todd said, but there’s still work to be done.

“Since then we’ve seen smoking rates cut in half, but they’ve been stagnant. We haven’t made as much of an impact as we should have, considering. I think that speaks to the addiction,” he said.

It’s a tough battle, Mr. Todd said, as companies look to attract a new generation of smokers with the introduction of products such as flavored cigars and electronic cigarettes.

“Electronic cigarettes are a concern,” he said, noting those are being marketed now as cigarettes once were through media outlets like television.

“One of the main concerns is the flavored little cigars,” Mr. Todd said.

The first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, released in 1964 by Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry, was the first federal government report that linked smoking and ill health, including lung cancer and heart disease.

Those diseases are still prevalent, Mr. Todd said, but new reports show a link between tobacco and other diseases.

“The newest surgeon general report now identifies a number of new diseases, including diabetes and colon cancer, which can be caused by smoking,” he said.

Also identified are liver cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction and age-related macular degeneration.

“The other big issue now is women are just as likely to be affected by tobacco-related illnesses as men were in the 60’s,” Mr. Todd said.

The surgeon general’s latest report, “The Health Consequences of Smoking - 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General,” notes that 20 years ago male smokers were about twice as likely as female smokers to die early from smoking-related disease. Today, the report says, women are now dying at rates as high as men from many of the diseases, including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease.

The report says smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing 443,000 people each year. Over the last 50 years, more than 20 million Americans have died from smoking, according to the report. An additional 16 million people suffer from smoking-related conditions.

“Smokers today have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than they did when the first Surgeon General’s report was released in 1964, even though they smoke fewer cigarettes,” Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak said in a statement. “How cigarettes are made and the chemicals they contain have changed over the years, and some of those changes may be a factor in higher lung cancer risks. Of all forms of tobacco, cigarettes are the most deadly – and cause medical and financial burdens for millions of Americans.”

The report also suggests that one out of every 13 children under age 18 - approximately 5.6 million American children who are live today - will die prematurely from smoking-related diseases unless current smoking rates drop.

Mr. Todd said one of their focuses, as well as the national focus, is on youth - the “next generation” - and keeping them away from tobacco products.

The report says youth smoking rates declined by half between 1997 and 2011, but another 3,200 children under age 18 smoking their first cigarette each day, and another 2,100 youth and young adults become daily smokers.

“Tobacco marketing accounts for about one-third of youth tobacco experimentation. The stuff in stores is very effective at getting kids interested. We’re just trying to make sure people understand the impact tobacco marketing has on youth smoking habits,” Mr. Todd said.

As part of a local campaign, Mr. Todd has traveled around the county, asking local governments and boards to consider adopting smoke-free policies for their facilities. Signs are then placed at those locations to announce they are smoke-free facilities.

“It’s an effort to change the social norm so kids don’t see it as normal, acceptable, every day behavior. It’s certainly not going to be observed by everyone, but 95 percent, when they see the policy, will abide by the policy,” he said.

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