Baby boomers remember a time when cigarettes were regularly advertised on television. Even Fred Flintstone hawked smokes on primetime (see video below). The mid-20th century was a time when entertainers and even newscasters freely smoked on the air and well before warning labels started popping up on cigarette packs. Ultimately, advertising was curtailed and the U.S. government began pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into programs to convince Americans not to smoke.
Today, 50 years after the U.S. Surgeon General first came out with a then-groundbreaking report detailing the health risks of smoking, the federal government say tobacco control efforts extended the lives of at least 8 million Americans—adding nearly 20 years to their life expectancy.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that more than 40 percent of American adults smoked cigarettes in the 1960s, but now only 20 percent of adults continue to smoke.
"Following that (1964) publicity, a number of events occurred that really caused smokers to quit — taxes on cigarettes, smoke-free air laws, bans on advertisements and health reporting," said senior author David Levy from Georgetown University.
But the report also includes some troubling news: More people than ever are lighting up worldwide, and modest declines in smoking prevalence in the U.S. have leveled off. Hundreds of thousands of people die annually from smoking-related illnesses, the researchers concluded.