Fifty years ago this weekend, the U.S. surgeon general released a landmark report blaming smoking for a number of health risks.
A new study co-authored by Seattle researchers says the campaign against smoking has saved about eight million lives since. That’s more than the population of Washington state, or put another way, it’s like preventing about five full Metro buses from driving off a cliff every day for 50 years.
Rafael Meza, a University of Michigan epidemiologist who started his career at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, says it’s a huge achievement.
“Tobacco control is probably one of the great successes of public health in the U. S,” said Meza, whose study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
To come up with the figure, Meza worked with other researchers from Fred Hutch and elsewhere. They reconstructed the smoking histories of Americans going back to those born during the Civil War.
Then they estimated what the mortality rate would be if not for measures like tobacco taxes, smoking bans and public education.
The lives saved represent about a 30 percent reduction in tobacco-related deaths. Each of those eight million gained an average of two decades of life.