CDC chief says war on tobacco must continue

Science has managed to document tens of thousands of things that can go wrong with the human body. Some of them cause minor discomfort – think heartburn. Others are more serious, or even deadly. Sometimes we don’t have a clue how to fix it and all we can do is sit back and watch (and pray.)

That hurts.

But it is even more painful when we know exactly how to do something and yet we can’t … or we fail. So that’s why the detrimental affects of tobacco use are painful to us. We know what to do – stop smoking – and yet we’re not able to make as big a difference as we’d like.

Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.

 

During a talk before the Association of Health Care Journalists in Chicago last month, Thomas Frieden, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed the reporters how stop-smoking campaigns have worked … and in some cases how they have not.

The CDC, as part of the release of a report on April 22, encourages all states to implement coordinated, high-impact strategies to end the stall in the decline of smoking rates. Such a move, the CDC says, will prevent millions of smoke-related heart attacks, cancers, strokes and deaths.

“The states know how to end the smoking epidemic,” said Dr. Frieden, who led efforts in New York City to ban smoking in public places. “We must redouble efforts to bring down smoking rates, prevent suffering and premature death and cut health care costs.”

The way to do it, he said, is simple: smoke-free laws, hard hitting ads and higher cigarette prices. He also encouraged states to increase assistance to people trying to quit – “most smokers want to quit,” he said – through help lines and smoking cessation classes.

He said such efforts have been highly successful in states like California which has the longest running public health program aimed at reducing smoking rates. Smoking rates there have decreased from 22.7 percent in 1988 to 13.3 percent (about half the national average) in 2006. Rates for heart disease deaths and lung cancer have also declined precipitously. But even in California, the decline in smoking rates has stalled, in part because budget concerns have caused a reduction in no-smoking efforts.

We must not let up on the work.

Dr. Frieden challenged the assembled reporters to continue to cover the story of tobacco’s costs in terms of lives and health care dollars.

“There are children who die everyday, there are premature births caused by smoking and yet it doesn’t get covered,” he said.

The report concludes: “We know what to do to end this epidemic and we know how to do it.”

Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”

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