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The Surgeon General’s Report at 50: Not a Golden Anniversary

Tuscaloosa, AL (January 9, 2014) – As the US Department of Health and Human Services prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary this month of the landmark Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health with a new report, “The Health Consequences of Smoking–50 Years of Progress,” a veteran anti-smoking strategist argues in a provocative new documentary released online today that efforts to reduce smoking have become more symbol than substance.

Blowing Smoke: The Lost Legacy of the Surgeon General’s Report, a film by Alan Blum, MD, director of The University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, chronicles what Blum calls “the fear, foot-dragging, and squandering of funds on the part of public health agencies, universities, and organized medicine alike in ending the smoking pandemic.”

In releasing the Surgeon General’s Report on January 11, 1964, Dr. Luther L. Terry, the nation’s physician-in-chief, declared that “Cigarette smoking is causally related to lung cancer in men and is a health hazard of sufficient importance to warrant appropriate remedial action.”

But according to Blum, such action has been far too little and late because of the failure for decades to confront and outsmart the tobacco industry. “Surgeon General Terry’s indictment of cigarettes in 1964 should have marked the beginning of the end of the Marlboro Man,” Blum says. “Yet far from riding off into the sunset, the tobacco industry is riding high in the saddle.”

Blum points to the record profits of the nation’s leading cigarette manufacturer Altria, maker of Marlboro; the company’s campus recruitment of college students as the new Marlboro sales force; and the significant investment in Altria by TIAA-CREF and other major pension funds. Moreover, although the percentage of American adults who smoke has declined to 20%, the number of people who continue using cigarettes–nearly 45 million–is nearly the same as in 1964.

“The 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report is hardly a time for celebration,” Blum says. “Rather, it should be a sobering reminder of the missed opportunities to reduce demand for cigarettes, which remain the nation’s number one avoidable cause of cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and high health costs. That nearly all government funding allocated to fight smoking is spent on research that adds very little to what we have known since 1964 is disgraceful. It suggests that the most addictive thing about tobacco today is money.”

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