Half a century ago in 1964, the Office of the Surgeon General released its historic report linking cigarette smoke to lung cancer risk. On Thursday, a new report, "The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General," was released stating that upward of 5.6 million U.S. children under the age of 18 will die early due to smoking-related causes unless smoking rates begin to drop off.

“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,” said acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak. “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.”

Adding to the Surgeon General’s 1964 report, today’s health care professionals consider diabetes, colorectal and liver cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, and heart disease to be smoking-related conditions. Since the 1964 report, over 20 million American havFe died as a result of smoking-related conditions. Nonsmokers are also at risk seeing as most experts attribute secondhand smoke to an increased chance of suffering a stroke. Unless current rates begin to see a dramatic drop in active smoker, one out of every 13 children in the U.S. will die prematurely.  

While 16 million Americans currently suffer from a smoking-related condition, close to half a million die due to their smoking habit. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated that 3,200 children under the age of 18 try their first cigarette each day while another 2,100 become daily smokers. Medical care and economic costs related to smoking has also climbed to a staggering $289 billion each year. Although men were twice as likely to die from a smoking-related condition 20 years ago, today men and women are equally likely to die from smoking. Women are even more likely to die due to smoking-caused chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), compared to men.

“Today, we’re asking Americans to join a sustained effort to make the next generation a tobacco-free generation,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This is not something the federal government can do alone. We need to partner with the business community, local elected officials, schools and universities, the medical community, the faith community, and committed citizens in communities across the country to make the next generation tobacco free.”

The USDA report also took time to commend President Obama’s Administration for giving the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco products through the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Affordable Care Act campaigns such as “Tips from Former Smokers” have helped with raising awareness for the dangers of smoking-related condition. Lastly, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act has led to an increase in federal tax for tobacco product, ultimately driving up the price of cigarettes.

“Over the last 50 years tobacco control efforts have saved 8 million lives but the job is far from over,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Howard K. Koh. “This report provides the impetus to accelerate public health and clinical strategies to drop overall smoking rates to less than 10% in the next decade. Our nation is now at a crossroads, and we must choose to end the tobacco epidemic once and for all.”