Statement of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
The Surgeon General is right: Smoking cessation treatment works and is critical
Contact: Megan Arendt
On January 23, 2020, the Surgeon General released “Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General.” Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) applauds the Surgeon General for once again leading the fight against tobacco addiction, disease and death. In particular, Dr. Jerome Adams and his staff should be commended for making it clear that access to treatment greatly improves success in quitting and that providing access is a critical component in the fight to end the tobacco epidemic.
For too long, cessation has been the ugly step child of the tobacco control movement and the nation’s public health priorities. There are several reasons for this: confidence that the epidemic can be ended by preventing youth uptake, a misunderstanding that cessation treatment is costly, and a thinly-veiled belief that adult smokers brought it upon themselves.
We have made great strides in reducing youth tobacco use (although the vaping crisis threatens to undermine that success). But victory over big tobacco requires fighting on all fronts, as outlined in the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). We cannot expect to win without large numbers of adult smokers quitting, and many can’t quit without therapy.
Even where access to cessation is available, it is inexplicably limited. Many health plans that cover nicotine replacement therapy impose strict time limits, even though it is in their own financial interest to help smokers quit. Most smokers want to quit, but many are highly addicted to the nicotine and can’t do so cold turkey or on their first try. As the Report highlights, several quit attempts are often required.
While the benefit of cessation for smokers is obvious, society as a whole profits from smokers becoming non-smokers. Smoking costs the country over $300 billion annually, and much of that cost is borne by governments, meaning taxpayers. As Dr. Adams shared today, every American pays roughly $1,000 every year to cover the national cost of smoking.
It is imperative to stop seeing smokers as the perpetrators of the tobacco epidemic. As the Report notes, nearly all started in adolescence, and became hooked on a product that was engineered to be as addictive as possible. Children cannot sign contracts, vote, or rent a car; legal authority comes at the age of 18 for a reason. Certainly, a middle schooler cannot consent to become a nicotine addict. The blame for the tobacco epidemic rests squarely on the tobacco industry, but governments bear some responsibility for allowing a product that is addictive and kills when used as intended to be sold in nearly every corner store.
The human right to health – which is well recognized in international law – says that every human has the right to the highest attainable standard of health. In a rich society like the U.S., access to smoking cessation treatment is certainly attainable. We also have a duty under human rights to seek equity in human development, especially for vulnerable populations. Racial minorities and the LGBT community have been particularly targeted by tobacco industry marketing, and consequently suffer disproportionately from the tobacco epidemic.
ACTION ON SMOKING AND HEALTH
Founded in 1967, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is America’s oldest anti-tobacco organization, dedicated to a world with ZERO tobacco deaths. Because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, ASH supports bold solutions proportionate to the magnitude of the problem. https://ash.org