First author Theodore R. Holford, professor of biostatistics and member of Yale School of Public Health's Cancer Center, and six other researchers who are part of the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network found about 17.6 million Americans died since 1964 due to smoking-related causes. However, 8 million lives were saved by increasingly stringent tobacco-control measures that commenced with the Jan. 11, 1964, release of a surgeon general's report on the affects of smoking.
The researchers used mathematical models to calculate the long-term effect of the report, and subsequent anti-smoking measures, over the past half-century.
U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry convened a committee of specialists who reviewed about 7,000 scientific articles and worked with more than 150 consultants to formulate the report's findings. It was released on a Saturday in order to generate maximum media coverage in Sunday's media.
It is seen by many as a pivotal moment in American public health and as the opening salvo in an ongoing effort to convince people to stop smoking, Holford said.
"An estimated 31 percent of premature deaths were avoided by this effort, but even more encouraging is the steady progress that was achieved over the past half-century, beginning with a modest 11 percent in the first decade to 48 percent of the estimate what we would have seen from 2004 to 2012 in the absence of tobacco control," Holford said in a statement.
"Today, a 40-year-old man can expect on average to live 7.8 years longer than he would have in 1964, and 30 percent of that improvement can be attributed to tobacco control. The gains for women have been slightly less, 5.4 years, but tobacco control accounts for 29 percent of that benefit."
The number of U.S. smokers in the United States decreased significantly over the past several decades, from about half of the U.S. population to an estimated 44 million current smokers, or about 20 percent.
Today, smoking continues to claims hundreds of thousands of lives annually and is the single largest cause of preventable death in the United States, the researchers said.