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Eight million Americans have been saved from dying prematurely of smoking-related causes in the 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was issued 50 years ago, according to a new report.

The report outlined the links between tobacco use, lung cancer and death. Since it was issued in 1964, smoking rates have been cut by about half, Reuters reports. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Public health efforts, including cigarette taxes and advertising limits, have contributed to declining smoking rates, the article notes.

“Despite the success of tobacco control efforts in reducing premature deaths in the United States, smoking remains a significant public health problem,” the researchers wrote. “Today, a half century after the surgeon general’s first pronouncement on the toll that smoking exacts from U.S. society, nearly a fifth of U.S. adults continue to smoke, and smoking continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives annually. No other behavior comes close to contributing so heavily to the nation’s mortality burden. Tobacco control has been a great public health success story but requires continued efforts to eliminate tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.”

A new Surgeon General’s report celebrating the anniversary of the original smoking report will be released on January 16.

“I think we know what prevents people from continuing to smoke or not smoke at all,” Dr. Mariell Jessup, President of the American Heart Association, told Reuters. “Very few smokers – less than 10 percent – start smoking as adults,” he said. “We really need to focus on keeping kids from smoking.”

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