No sooner had I completed posting my blog this morning about the Great American Smokeout than two new tobacco-related reports appeared in my email from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The articles detailed the latest information from the CDC on cigarette smoking in the United States, including the economic impact as well as years-of-life-lost in this country due to tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke.
Some success, to be certain, but also sad and substantial failures. The price that tobacco makes us pay--both in lives and money--defies our ability to comprehend much less accept.
The information describing the number of current smokers was interesting. For several years, the percentage of adult smokers who fit the definition of “current smokers” in the United States has remained fairly steady at around 21%. In 2007, fortunately, the most recent survey data from CDC show that number has declined about 1% to 19.8%. That is a significant year-over-year improvement.
As one might expect, more adult men (22.3%) than women (17.4%) are current smokers. Somewhat surprisingly—given the past high rates of smoking in the African American community and as discussed in a recent blog—more whites (21.4%) than blacks (19.8%) are current smokers. Blacks also had a large decline in smoking prevalence from 2006 to 2007, going from 23% of adults to 19.8%. That’s an absolute reduction of over 3% and a relative decline of over 14%. This considerable decrease sustained over time explains why the rates of smoking related cancers have fallen so much in the African American community.
The report also notes that 13.3% of Hispanic adults are current smokers, which is far less than most other ethnic groups. Higher education and socioeconomic status were also associated with much lower smoking rates.
Unfortunately, the report confirms once again that most smokers who try to quit simply don’t use recommended methods or avail themselves of counseling services such as the American Cancer Society’s Quitline discussed in my blog earlier today. The net result is that only 10-20% of smokers who try to quit are able to stay cigarette-free at 3 months.
The somewhat good news, according to the CDC report, is that young adults were more likely to quit smoking during the survey year. Stopping smoking earlier is associated with a lower rate of premature death later in life. Young adults have better success at quitting since they haven’t had as long a time to be addicted or develop the ingrained social and behavioral habits associated with smoking. And, they are more likely to live in environments which support their desire to quit according to the CDC.
When it comes to the human and financial side of the equation, the numbers are staggering according to the second CDC report.
The latest data from 2000-2004 shows that cigarette smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke (second-hand smoke) leads to at least 443,000 premature deaths each year.
That is a horrendous number. But think about this one: each year, smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke results in 5.1 million years of productive life lost. 5.1 MILLION YEARS!!!! That is an astounding number of years that mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, family members, friends, co-workers and others are lost to each of us.
The new analysis also shows that 49,400 lung cancer and heart disease deaths are related to second-hand smoke every year.
In terms of financial impact of productivity losses related to tobacco use each year—which to me is important but pales in comparison to people dying needlessly and prematurely— amounted to $96.8 billion. Health care costs attributable to smoking amounted to another $96 billion. The total cost per year? About $193 billion.
And what do we do as a country to combat these losses? How many billions do we spend to reduce tobacco dependence? The answer: about $595 million on comprehensive statewide tobacco prevention and control programs. That is 325 times less than the amount of money we spend on tobacco related health costs and productivity losses every year.
Does anyone care about this carnage? Does it make a difference to our legislators? Are we that inured to these numbers that no one understands the harm that tobacco brings to our country and our children? Doesn’t this make you mad as heck and want to demand that something be done?
My friends, this is personal to every one of us. Every one of us knows someone who has been impacted by the end result of using tobacco as intended, which is sickness and death. Every one of us knows someone who is ill or has died prematurely because they smoked. Every one of us has seen first hand the impact of the tragedy that we call tobacco.
Yet we still have to plead our case to enact and enforce clean-indoor air laws. We still have to plead our case—especially in the southeastern United States and in Washington—that tobacco taxes must be raised to effectively stem this epidemic. And we still have to plead our case that the United States sign on to the international treaty that will help control our exporting the tobacco scourge to developing countries around the world.
When, I ask, are we going to wake up and demand more? Aren’t these numbers enough to get some action where it is needed most?
That action is too late for the thousands who have died already this year. That action can’t come too soon for those who may be the next years’ and the next generations’ victims.
The slaughter is beyond our ability to imagine and comprehend, and these numbers prove it. Millions of lives here in the United States and throughout the world depend on our commitment and our success to make this death-dealing product go away.