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Oklahoma looks back at 50 years of fighting cigarette use

On Jan. 11, 1964, Dr. Luther Terry, the U.S. Surgeon General, made history when he announced the first surgeon general's report on smoking and health, concluding in that report that smoking causes lung cancer.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: January 12, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: January 12, 2014

The headline on the front page of The Sunday Oklahoman read “Cigarets: They Can Kill You.”

It was amid news about cold weather, a shark attack in California, a plane hitting a skyscraper in Kansas City and the University of Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson resigning to run for a U.S. Senate seat.

On Jan. 11, 1964, Dr. Luther Terry, the U.S. Surgeon General, made history when he announced the first surgeon general's report on smoking and health, concluding in that report that smoking causes lung cancer.

“In the five decades since, we've learned: that smoking damages nearly every organ in the body; it is responsible for an enormous burden of disease, death and economic cost in the United States; and, exposure to secondhand smoke can have devastating health consequences,” Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, said. “Yet, since this first report was released, we've also shifted the perception of smoking from an accepted national pastime to a discouraged threat to health — and more than halved smoking rates in this country.”

Despite significant progress, about 45 million people currently smoke in America, and tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death, according to the U.S. Surgeon General's office.

Gov. Mary Fallin said, “My dad and mom smoked all their adult lives and they died from smoking-related illnesses. Most Oklahomans can tell a similar story about someone they know and care about. That's because smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in this state, killing 6,000 men and women each year. Hundreds more will die each year from secondhand smoke. Reducing smoking rates and tobacco usage is an absolutely essential part of any plan to improve health outcomes in Oklahoma.

“It is encouraging that in the 50 years since the first U.S. surgeon general's report that smoking rates have decreased by more than 50 percent. In 2013, Oklahoma's adult smoking rate declined from 26.1 percent to 23.3 percent, which improved our state's ranking for adult smoking from 47th to 39th in the nation. We're making progress in Oklahoma, but we still have plenty of work to do. That's why we're continuing to pursue policies — like the smoking ban on publicly owned property — that encourage Oklahomans to quit smoking.”

Progress grows

The percentage of adults who were currently smokers in Oklahoma is at a historic low rate for Oklahoma, the state Health Department reported.

Terry Cline, the Oklahoma state health commissioner, said that drop can be attributed to several factors, including community and student groups working against tobacco use along with changes in Oklahoma's laws and cigarette taxes.

“I think we're going to see more benefits from those types of activities,” he said. “I think it's a combination of all these factors, but I would give large amount of credit to community groups that are wanting to improve the health of their communities.”

Cline said it has become less convenient to smoke, with most workplaces not allowing smoking, along with many public places.

In the 1960s, smoking was incredibly prevalent in American culture, with athletes and other celebrities proudly smoking in advertisements and movies. The surgeon general's report represented a critical moment in a shift in that culture, he said.

“There was clearly advertising that was targeted toward kids and youth, and if you're a marketer, that makes sense,” he said. “The earlier you get people hooked on this product, the sooner you begin making money off their addiction.”

‘Everybody just kept smoking'

Michael Shoemaker remembers not caring much about the big news.

Shoemaker, 61, of Stillwater, was a young smoker, enjoying hanging out with the “cool kids.”

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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