Breaking: 480,000 Americans still die from cigarettes every year

At the Atlantic Monthly, Kenneth Warner and I have a 7,000 word piece called the Nicotine Fix. Ken is one of the nation’s leading tobacco control experts and a former dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. It was great to be his wingman on this. We discuss the remarkable, yet incomplete progress America has made in reducing tobacco-related deaths. In the fifty years since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report, efforts to reduce smoking have prevented an estimated eight million deaths. Each of these eight million people received an additional twenty years of human life.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.06.41 PM


As educated and affluent people turn away from smoking, it’s easy to forget some basic realities. 480,000 Americans still die of smoking-related causes every year. That’s an amazing figure. Our piece discusses the disgraceful history but more promising history of tobacco harm reduction efforts. Both of my in-laws died harrowing deaths from lung cancer, way before their time. I wish they had access to e-cigs or other products they might have substituted for combustable tobacco.

Incidentally, Ken and I are very grateful to Jennie Rothenberg Gritz and others at the Atlantic. They produced our piece beautifully. We have old tobacco ads and videos, and graphs like the one above, drawn from Surgeon General reports. We hope you enjoy reading it.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.