Robert Croyle, director of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, said if all cigarette smoking in the United States had ceased following the release of the first surgeon general's report in 1964, about 2.5 million people would have been spared from death due to lung cancer in the 36 years following the report.
"These findings provide a compelling illustration of the devastating impact of tobacco use in our nation and the enormous benefits of reducing rates of smoking," Croyle said in a statement. "The prevention and cessation of tobacco use continue to be vital priorities for the medical, scientific, and public health communities."
The researchers, part of the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network, utilized a comparative modeling approach in which they constructed detailed cigarette smoking histories for individuals born from 1890 through 1970. The data were related to histories to lung cancer mortality in mathematical models.
Using the models, the researchers were able to estimate the impact of changes in smoking patterns resulting from tobacco control activities on lung cancer deaths during the period from 1975 through 2000. No data were available after 2000.
Since the 1964 report, U.S. tobacco control efforts included restrictions on smoking in public places, increases in cigarette taxes, restricting underage access to cigarettes and efforts to increase public awareness of the hazards of smoking, Croyle said.
The findings were published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.