An important breakthrough in public health.

Fifty years ago in 1964 on the 11th January, there was an important breakthrough in public health.

On this day, Dr. Luther Terry released to the world, the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. It highlighted the strong links between tobacco smoking, lung cancer and death.

The news shocked the world as most people during the time, including doctors and other medical professionals smoked. Even Dr. Terry and 4 members of his expert panel smoked during the investigation. Wisely, Dr. Terry quit a few months before releasing the report.

At the time, people smoked everywhere

In the 50s and 60s, people smoked everywhere – at work, on public transport, at the theatre and even in hospitals whilst attending to their patients. The world has come a long way since then, with January 2014 marking the 50th anniversary of this milestone.

Significant tobacco control efforts have been inspired by Dr Terry’s report and remarkable progress has been made. In Australia, smoking rates have more than halved and with it, countless of lives have been saved.

Effective tobacco control strategies were implemented

Since the report, thirty other Surgeon General’s reports followed and a number of effective tobacco control strategies were implemented. Such measures included:

  • bans on tobacco advertising
  • health warnings on cigarette packets
  • the introduction of smokefree areas and workplaces
  • price increases
  • hard hitting anti-smoking advertisements and campaigns
  • youth prevention programs
  • quitting medications
  • Quitlines to support smokers to quit
  • and in a world first, the introduction of plain packaging in Australia.

More however, needs to be done

As we applaud these wins against the tobacco companies, we must also remember that more needs to be done. People still continue to smoke, with the highest numbers of smokers amongst vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

Smoking is still the leading cause of disease and death in Australia. One in two lifetime smokers will die because of this lethal addiction, with over 15,500 Australians dying from smoking every year.

Big Tobacco continues to promote their deadly products and in particular to developing countries. It is unacceptable that cigarettes are still widely available, and continue to cause additional illness and death amongst so many people.

Smoking creates a huge burden on our country’s medical costs and health care system, let alone the distress caused to families and the community at large who are grieving the loss of loved ones.

This anniversary reminds us to continue our resolve, to continue the fight and to help put an end to the tobacco epidemic for good.

Where will we be in the next 50 years? Only time will tell…

For further information…

If you would like further information, the Surgeon General will be releasing on the 17th January 2014, the 50th anniversary Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. The report will highlight 50 years of progress in tobacco control and prevention; it will present new data on the health consequences of tobacco use, and will detail initiatives that can end the tobacco use epidemic.

If you would like to watch a few short videos, have a look at the ABC News’ article: ‘Survey finds one in 10 smokers does not link smoking with illness, 50 years after landmark report’. This article also brings to light new research released by the Cancer Council Victoria on the attitudes of smokers.

If you would like a visual summary, watch the video documentary (just over 20mins) produced by The University of Alabama’s Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society. It is called ‘Blowing Smoke: The Lost Legacy of the Surgeon General’s Report’. It provides an excellent review, highlighting Dr. Terry’s declaration, as well as the tobacco companies tactics over the years to downplay the messages.

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at

Until next time, wishing you all great health and wellbeing.