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50 Years Later: A Half Century of Surgeon General’s Reports

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UPDATE: A live webcast press conference will be broadcast from the White House on Friday, Jan. 17 at 9:30 a.m. EST to release the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General's Report. You are invited to watch at :

January 2, 2014

50th Logo

Much progress has been made in the war against smoking since the U.S. Surgeon General released the first report on smoking and health 50 years ago this month. Since 1964, smoking prevalence among U.S. adults has been reduced by half and smoke-free laws have gone into effect in states and communities all around the country.

Chief among those laws is the federal ban on smoking on airline flights originating or ending in the U.S.—legislation that was significantly impacted by AARC members who devoted countless hours in the late 1980s to survey airline passengers to find out if they would support such a ban.

The first law banning smoking on flights of two hours or less went into effect in 1988, with the final law banning smoking on all flights in and out of the U.S. signed into law by President Clinton in 2000.

Promoting a tobacco free life

In the years since, AARC members have continued to support smoke-free laws in their own communities and work with smokers who want or need to kick the habit, often using information gleaned from the series of 30 Surgeon General’s reports published since 1964 to support their efforts.

Several years ago, the AARC formed the Tobacco-Free Lifestyle Roundtable to serve as a networking resource for AARC members engaged in tobacco cessation education and treatment. Last summer, the Roundtable released a new guide titled Why Quit Using Tobacco? aimed at helping RTs help their patients give up tobacco.

More work ahead

Despite the progress that has been made, however, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in our country, killing 440,000 people every year. The government estimates eight million people live with at least one serious smoking-related illness, with a cost to the U.S. economy of $193 billion annually.

The 50th anniversary Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and health scheduled for release this month will highlight 50 years of progress in tobacco control and prevention, present new data on the health consequences of tobacco use, and detail initiatives that can end the tobacco use epidemic in the U.S.

To commemorate the anniversary, the Department of Health & Human Services is making an array of resources available to anyone who would like to use the occasion to promote the anti-smoking message in their own communities. Visit the Partners page on to gain access to downloadable banners, badges, social media resources, PowerPoint slides, tips from former smokers, and more.

To review previous Surgeon General’s reports, go to the Tobacco page.