Fifty years after surgeon general’s report linked tobacco and cancer, a call to further action.

01/09/2014 4:48 PM

01/09/2014 4:50 PM

Fifty years ago, the Beatles celebrated their first No. 1 hit in the United States, Ford Motor Co. unveiled its sporty Mustang and the most famous cowboy in the land was the Marlboro Man.

Today, we remember Jan. 11, 1964, for a different reason. It was the day the U.S. surgeon general published a report establishing a scientific link between smoking and life-threatening illness and death.

The report relied on findings from a study funded by the American Cancer Society, the first large-scale examination of the effect of cigarette smoking on death rates from cancer and other diseases.

Within a year of the surgeon general’s report, the government forced tobacco companies to place warning labels on cigarette packs.

But further change came slowly.

It wasn’t until 1988 that smoking was banned on short domestic airline flights. Two decades after that, Fort Worth enacted a smoking ban in restaurants, bowling alleys and business offices, prohibiting smokers from lighting up within 20 feet of many building entrances.

As cancer care professionals, we believe now is the time to finish the job we started in 1964. While the U.S. smoking rate has fallen by more than half to 18 percent, it still translates to more than 43 million smokers.

Every year, more than 32,000 Texans under the age of 18 become new smokers or use other tobacco products.

Second-hand smoke is a serious public health issue as well. Each year in the U.S., it is responsible for about 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 deaths from heart disease.

Furthermore, while we know that tobacco use definitely causes many cancers, we don’t fully understand why 10 percent of patients who have never smoked get lung cancer.

This anniversary must be a call to action. We must work with our legislators to prioritize the reduction of the burden of cancer and other tobacco-related diseases in Texas.

We need to adequately fund tobacco prevention, cessation and research programs to ensure we protect our right to breathe smoke-free air. We must also support researchers who have innovative ideas.

Just two weeks ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that older smokers at high risk for lung cancer should receive annual low-dose screening CT scans to help detect and prevent the spread of the disease at its earliest stage.

By using these screening guidelines, researchers with the National Lung Screening Trial proved a 22 percent reduction in mortality from lung cancer.

Here in North Texas we are fortunate.

Moncrief Cancer Institute and UT Southwestern Medical Center lead and participate in numerous scientific endeavors supported through funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and the American Cancer Society.

With this support, UT Southwestern — the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the region — and Moncrief Cancer Institute are conducting research that will improve the lives of fellow Americans.

Most importantly, we are using and improving the tools — proven smoking cessation techniques, survivorship programs, genetic sequencing, biomarkers and drugs — that will be the basis for controlling or curing lung cancer in the future.

While we have the tools, we don’t have extra time. We cannot afford to wait another 50 years.

Keith E. Argenbright is director of the Moncrief Cancer Institute and an associate professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Lori A. Drew is chairwoman of the Tarrant County Board of the American Cancer Society and external relations director for the Moncrief Cancer Institute.

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