Anti-smoking campaigns have saved over 800,000 lives

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More than 800,000 lives were saved in the United States between 1975 and 2000 thanks to anti-smoking measures, according to a new study that used a Yale mathematical model to quantify for the first time the impact of anti-smoking measures on lung cancer. The authors also note that 2.5 million people who died from smoking-related lung cancer in this same period might have survived if stricter tobacco control measures had been in effect. The study appears online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health and more than a dozen other universities and institutes formed the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET) consortium and used various mathematical models, including one developed at Yale, to analyze trends in cigarette smoking and quantify the impact of various tobacco control measures. Detailed cigarette smoking histories were recreated for generations dating back to 1890, and significant events, such as the U.S. surgeon general’s landmark report on the dangers of tobacco use in the mid 1960s, were factored in.

In the years after the surgeon general’s report, smoking habits started to change. Some people began to quit, and others reduced their smoking, increasingly influenced by measures such as higher tobacco taxes, public health campaigns, and restricting areas where people can smoke.

Using Yale’s mathematical model to calculate smoking rates, the researchers found that this gradual reduction in smoking over a 25-year period beginning in 1975 resulted in approximately 824,000 fewer lung cancer deaths, 603,000 of which were among men. Models used by other teams produced similar results, showing tobacco control averted about one-third of potentially avoidable lung cancer deaths.

“Tobacco-control strategies in the United States have saved hundreds of thousands of lives from lung cancer death,” said co-author Theodore R. Holford, professor of biostatistics at Yale School of Public health and leader of Yale’s CISNET team. “But there is still much more that needs to be done because globally millions continue to die from lung cancer caused by smoking. Most lung cancer deaths are preventable and the challenge is to find effective ways to reduce cigarette smoking.”

“The magnitude of what has been achieved by tobacco control should encourage us to redouble efforts to further reduce the cost in life and treasure from cigarette smoking,” Holford adds.

While other factors contribute to lung cancer, such as genetic polymorphisms, the vast majority of cases result from smoking. Smoking-related diseases other than lung cancer were not part of the research. The study was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute.

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