"Today we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first surgeon general's report on smoking and health. On Jan. 11, 1964, the ninth surgeon general, Rear Adm. Luther Terry, ... issued a message which was unequivocal and unapologetic: 'Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action,'" Dr. Boris D. Lushniak, acting surgeon general, said in a statement.
"Over the decades since 1964, no single issue has engaged the surgeons general more than smoking. Since 1964, 31 surgeon general's reports have added to our understanding of the devastating health and financial burdens caused by tobacco use."
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this week attributed a drop of more than 50 percent in the U.S. smoking rate to tobacco control policies.
"Specific policies that led to this huge decline of smoking include higher tobacco taxes, the increasing prevalence of smoking bans and government spending on tobacco prevention and cessation campaigns," said Patrick Reynolds, executive director of the Foundation for a Smokefree America. "It's getting much costlier and less socially acceptable to continue the habit."
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, noted the landmark surgeon general's report -- the first of its kind on smoking and health -- concluded 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," Sebelius 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."
Significant progress has been made over the last 50 years in smoking cessation, Sebelius said.
"I am extremely proud of the Obama administration's tobacco control record -- from expanding access to cessation services without cost-sharing through the Affordable Care Act, to giving the Food and Drug Administration comprehensive authority to regulate tobacco products through the Tobacco Control Act," Sebelius said.
Despite significant progress, about 45 million people currently smoke in the United States, and tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death.
"If you are one of the millions of Americans who smoke, I ask you to quit for your own good and for the good of your loved ones," Lushniak said.
"Today is a great day to make the pledge and begin the path to health and wellness. Make Jan. 11, 2014, a day for you and your loved ones to remember. Talk to your doctor or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help."