After Five Decades of Warnings, Tobacco Use Still Kills 1,300 Americans Every Day

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Matthew Vondrasek
  • 170th Operations Support Squadron

In 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report linking smoking to ill health. The report highlighted dozens of studies from various scientists that all linked tobacco use to various diseases including: Lung Cancer, Bronchitis and Emphysema, Larynx Cancer, Oral Cancer, Esophagus Cancer, Stomach Ulcers, Circulatory Disease, Liver Cirrhosis, Bladder Cancer, Coronary Artery Disease, Heart Disease, Hypertensive Heart Disorder, Kidney Cancer and Arteriosclerosis. Since this groundbreaking report was released over 20 million Americans have died from smoking


In 2014, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report marking the 50th anniversary of the release of the Surgeon General’s report. That report detailed that despite 50 years of progress, smoking continues to be an immense burden to our nation. Smoking still causes the premature death of almost half a million Americans annually and is also estimated to cost the economy $289 Billion every year. Under current smoking rates, over five million children under the age of 18 will die prematurely from smoking. If we look worldwide, the costs are even more appalling. One billion people will die from tobacco use this century.


The U.S. military has a high percentage of smokers with 24 percent of all service members’ report that they smoke compared to 19 percent of the general population. Tobacco use costs the Department of Defense 1.6 billion in health costs and lost work time annually.  At current trends, 170,000 service members that are currently in the military will die from smoking.  Smoking has also been shown to dramatically increase rates of suicide among service members.


Many have argued that DOD restrictions on tobacco use are more stringent than ever and are adequate to solve tobacco problems. One look at the data would clearly show otherwise. As the statistics, studies and research shows, the costs of tobacco to our nation and the U.S. military are staggering.


Our Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers and Marines deserve commanders that will make unpopular but principled decisions. Banning the use of tobacco in uniform, on bases and prohibiting the sale of tobacco on installations is an obvious step forward. A few will argue that Congress has control over some of these issues and it is out of the hands of military commanders. Yet, any reasonable American will quickly point out that Congress would be quick to support legislation that is virtually cost free, would save lives and has the unified backing of military leaders.


It’s been five decades, how much longer will it take?