In the 50 years since the Surgeon General first reported on the dangers of smoking tobacco, much has been done to effect change. At the time of the first Surgeon General’s Report, 42 percent of American adults smoked. Today, only 18 percent do.
That’s according to the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General’s Report released in January.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to list tobacco use as the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. And young people today continue to pick up the habit.
Last month Washington University’s Center for Public Health Systems Science (CPHSS) released new tobacco control policy guidelines nationwide targeted at helping states and local communities reduce tobacco use.
The focus is policy, not education, because that has been determined to have a broader effect, said Douglas Luke, the director of CPHSS and a professor at the Brown School of Social Work.
The main recommendations of CPHSS tobacco control guidelines are to raise the price of tobacco products and to implement smoke-free policies.
“Fewer people smoke, fewer people start smoking if the price is higher,” Luke said. While people who are addicted may still buy tobacco products even as the price goes up, a higher cost discourages new smokers from picking up the habit, he explained.
That’s why Missouri’s low tobacco tax rate worries him.
“We have the lowest tax rate on cigarettes in the entire country. And it just makes it easier for people to start because the cost of starting is much less compared to other places,” Luke said.
Despite the low tax rate, Missouri has about the same percent of smokers as the national average, 19 percent. But St. Louis City has a higher concentration of smokers, sitting at 26 percent, Luke said.
And Missouri is doing a bit better on the second half of the policy recommendations. While the state does not have a smoke-free policy, some local communities do.
“As recent as the early 90s very few people in the United States lived in communities that had smoke-free policies, less than one percent. As of this year, about half the country lives in either in a state or a community that has strong smoke-free policies.” Luke said.
Another focus of the policy guidelines is youth prevention, because most smokers begin smoking before the age of 18.
The newest challenge on that front is the e-cigarette, said Luke, with many young people already switching over to the new non-tobacco version of the cigarette, which releases nicotine in vapor form.
According to Luke, the concern about the e-cigarette is two-fold. First, they often aren’t subject to regulations. And second, they may prolong the use of nicotine even if the initial health risks are lower.
Adding Years to a Child’s Life
The thing about tobacco use, said Luke, is that not only is it the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, but it is a choice that has a direct impact on how long you live.
If you can prevent a child from starting smoking, you can add 4 to 8 years to their life, he said.
Free hotline in Missouri which connects callers with smoking cessation programs.