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Working Toward a Tobacco-Free Generation: 51 Years of Progress

Let’s carry on the efforts of the last half century to put an end to the tobacco epidemic.

Eliminating tobacco use seemed like an impossible task when the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking came out in 1964. Almost half of our population smoked, and tobacco use was everywhere from airplanes and restaurants to sports and magazines. However, one year ago this month, when we released the Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress, we recognized how much progress we’ve made in lowering those statistics—from nearly one in two to now less than one in five American adults who smoke cigarettes.

Our goal, as described in the 50th anniversary report, is to reduce the smoking rate to less than 10% for both youth and adults in 10 years (currently 15.7% and 17.8% respectively). With the release of the 50th anniversary report, we directly called on all sectors of society to help make the next generation tobacco-free. Our partners answered that call with remarkable action. These are just a few examples of the incredible work done on the local, state, and national levels this past year:

  • New Orleans City Council unanimously passed an ordinance extending smoke-free protection to most public spaces, including bars, clubs and casinos.
  • Columbia, MO, Evanston, IL, and Hawai’i County raised the age for legal tobacco sales to 21 years old.
  • Chicago, IL and Houston, TX prohibited smoking in their public parks.
  • The University System of Georgia and University of California system became tobacco-free, adding 31 and 10 campuses, respectively, to the more than 1,500 college campuses now with similar policies.
  • CVS Health committed to stop selling all tobacco products at its 7,700 plus stores and to rolling out a robust smoking cessation program.
  • Legacy’s truth campaign began enlisting youth to “FINISH IT” and become the first tobacco­free generation.
  • The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released robust multimedia campaigns to prevent youth from starting and help adults quit smoking, respectively.

Reflecting on the 50th anniversary year, I am inspired by how much was accomplished by working together – across sectors from the private sector to education to local government – in just one year. Never before have we had so much momentum toward ending the most preventable cause of premature death in this country.

As we embark on the 51st year of first Surgeon General Report, let us celebrate the progress we have made, while not losing the momentum and inspiration for continuing this work. The #20Million Memorial, a social media effort also launched in 2014 by CDC, reminded us of the more than 20 million Americans who have died from smoking and secondhand smoking since that first Surgeon General’s Report. The 50th anniversary report demonstrated that without more action, 5.6 million American children alive today will die prematurely because of tobacco use.

For the lives of our children and our communities, we cannot stop now. Let’s carry on the efforts of the last half century to put an end to the tobacco epidemic. Together, we can help the next generation be tobacco-free.

tobacco | youth | smoking
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