It’s been 50 years since the U.S. Surgeon General issued its first groundbreaking report warning people against the health risks of smoking. And a lot has changed since then—though maybe not enough.
Reports show that today, the number of American smokers has dropped in half. But a lot of people are still dying early from completely preventable smoking-related causes. Almost half a million annually, in fact. Which means there’s still a lot more work to be done.
News like this makes me regret how infrequently I talk about tobacco. I don’t emphasize this danger nearly enough, and I’m sorry. I guess it’s because, fortunately, almost none of my patients smoke.
But the fact is, we can’t change the future if we don’t learn from our past. And even if no one smoked anywhere anymore, there would still be a lot to gain from taking a look back at the history of tobacco in this country.
So I’d like to do just that today. Because that first report back in 1964 represented a seismic shift for public health. One that exposed cigarettes as the killers they are. Something I’m hoping will happen to sugar in the years to come.
But it easily could have gone a different way.
The only reason people know that cigarettes are so bad for them is because it was front page news and the lead story on every radio and television station across the United States. So just think of the health impact it could have if forces would rally against the health consequences of sugar in the same way.
Even now, nearly one out of every five Americans still smokes, and it’s costing the country billions. Scientists are actually still finding new diseases caused by smoking, because even second-hand exposure is capable of harming nearly every organ in the body.
Estimates predict that upwards of 18 million Americans will die by 2050—all because of smoking.The story behind sugar is disturbingly similar… except that the current plight is even worse.
And it all boils down to a simple lack of awareness—one that’s exploited by greedy food and beverage companies looking to line their pockets at any cost.
After all, one of the main reasons smoking became so popular in the first place was brilliant marketing. Sugar has enjoyed the same kind of meteoric rise. And HFCS-laden processed food giants have targeted children in the same way that tobacco companies once targeted military personnel. (And yes, even kids, too.)
Today Ronald McDonald is as recognizable to children as Mickey Mouse. And way back when, cigarette companies used Fred Flintstone to advertise smoking. (If you’re too young to remember, yes—that really happened.)
Of course, even back when smoking was enjoying its heyday, the rumblings of its sinister health effects were already beginning beneath the radar. And the Surgeon General’s famous report was only the opening shot of a long battle with a powerful and corrupt industry. One that still continues today.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
Congress called for warning labels on cigarettes, and it saved peoples’ lives. Cigarette ads were banned on radio and TV a few years later, and it saved even more lives.
But we have yet to even take these first crucial steps with sugar. Despite the fact that, at this point, we have all the proof in the world that it’s just as harmful as cigarette smoking. If not far more so.
So why am I bringing this up today?
Tomorrow is Independence Day. And in that spirit, I want to remind you that—just as with any revolution—true, lasting change starts with you.
Obviously, I want our government step up to the plate and protect Americans from the tyranny of the sugar industry. But you don’t need to wait for the rest of the world to catch up to declare your own independence—and start conquering your addiction to sugar today.
Freedom is already within your grasp. And it only takes three days. But the rewards of a life without sugar will last you a whole lot longer than that.
American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 2014. Presented April 7, 2014.
“Fifty Years On, Half As Many Americans Now Smoke, but…” Medscape. Apr 14, 2014.