New battle brews as landmark smoking report turns 50

AUSTIN (KXAN) — This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s historic report on smoking and health, which led to the well-known Surgeon General’s warning label on cigarette packages.

“In the United States over 1,300 Americans die every single day. That’s like two overloaded [Boeing] 747’s crashing every single day,” said Dr. Phillip Huang, medical director for the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services.

It was on Jan. 11, 1964 that Luther L. Terry, M.D., the 9th Surgeon General of the United States released a report titled, “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee of the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service.”

The report is marked as the first major step toward reducing the use of tobacco worldwide.

“Tobacco kills more than AIDS, crack, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, car accidents, fire, murder, and suicide combined every year in Texas and the United States,” said Dr. Huang.

Throughout the past 50 years, 31 Surgeon General’s have gone on to expand on this initial report. In fact, in 2004 the Surgeon General report concluded that smoking affects nearly every organ of the body.

In a recent report written by Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh it stated smoking rates have fallen from 43 percent in 1965 to about 18 percent today.

That has also led to mortality rates from lung cancer declining as well. Still, cigarettes remain the chief preventable killer in America — with more than 20 million Americans dying prematurely since the first Surgeon General’s report in 1964.

“Ninety death certificates last month in Austin-Travis County identified tobacco use contributing to their death,” said Huang.

Now there’s a new battle brewing: e-cigarettes or electronic cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the percentage of U.S. middle- and high school students who use this type of tobacco has doubled between 2011 and 2012.

Austin Recovery in Northeast Austin works with clients to quit smoking as they battle alcohol and drug addictions.

(Kate Weidaw/KXAN)
(Kate Weidaw/KXAN)

“We use nicotine replacement therapy and relaxation to help curb the cravings,” said Ramona Cruz-Peters, senior director of Marketing and Communication.

Some of the biggest problems clients face is the social aspect of smoking. Through lectures and group therapy, they teach their clients to replace that smoke break.

“We talk about taking walks outside, watching TV, playing a board game – basically replacing that time you spent smoking with something productive,” said Cruz-Peters.

Weight gain is another problem they tackle. Experts at Austin Recovery recommend getting a gym membership and using the time you would have smoked a cigarette to look at healthy food options.

Those who have a hard time battling the oral fixation of cigarettes can use lozenges.

“This allows them to have something to suck on, which can make a big difference,” said Elizabeth Devine, director of Treatment Services at Austin Recovery.

There’s a free tip line to help smokers quit: 1-877-YES-QUIT.

There’s also information online on how to kick the smoking habit.

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