50 years since Surgeon General linked smoking to cancer, heart disease

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- 50 years ago January 11th, the United States Surgeon General released a report on smoking and health which, for the first time, linked smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. Today, health officials are continuing to spread the message that smoking is dangerous to your health.

Jarvis West says he was a smoker before he got involved with an organization working to spread the word about the dangers of tobacco use.

"I was a smoker about three months ago, but then I got involved with the Wisconsin African-American Tobacco Prevention Network," West said.

Cathy Peters with the American Cancer Society Action Network says 50 years ago, about 40% of people smoked, and today, it's about 19%.

Although there has been progress seen in the declining number of smokers, there's still a long way to go.

"There`s still 19% of people in Wisconsin who are smoking and that means about 7,000 people are dying every year in Wisconsin from tobacco-related illnesses," Peters said.

Peters says the American Cancer Society's Action Network has been participating in a number of different policy initiatives to help drive those numbers down.

"Increasing the prices of tobacco products through tobacco taxes. One of the things we would like to see Wisconsin do is close some of the loopholes related to smokeless tobacco products as well as what they`re calling little cigars," Peters said.

Meanwhile, they'll continue to use the anniversary as a way to get the word out about the dangers of smoking.

Reports show that there are 44 million Americans who still smoke.

CLICK HERE to view the American Cancer Society's "Guide to Quitting Smoking."