Surgeon General’s Smoking Warning Turns 50

Posted at: 01/17/2014 5:44 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the surgeon general's landmark warning about the dangers of smoking.

Before the surgeon general's report came out in 1964, nearly 42 percent of Americans smoked.

Today that's down to around 18 percent, and health officials say that's thanks to a number of tactics adopted by cities and counties all across the country.

"Education is key,” said Deb Skare, a tobacco cessation specialist with Mayo Clinic Health Systems in Austin. “Also increased taxes and the smoking bans in the public places, all that will help."

But health officials and lawmakers alike know there's still work to be done.

Three bills have already been filed for Minnesota's upcoming legislative session that would amend the Clean Indoor Air Act to ban e-cigs from almost all public places, extend current cigarette restrictions for retailers to include e-cigs, as well as to ensure that foster homes remain smoke free to protect children.

But as many limitations and restrictions as lawmakers impose, experts say in the end it's up to the smoker to make the commitment to quitting.

“I’ve had a lot of people come in to see me that have been smoking 40, 50, even 60 years, and something motivates them at that point, whether it's a grandkid, difficulty breathing or something else,” Skare said. “It's never too late to quit smoking."  

According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing nearly 480,000 Americans each year, resulting in roughly $280 billion in lost productivity and health care costs.