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Tuesday, March 27, 2001
Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

Remarks by HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson
Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General Press Conference

Thank you Dr. Moritsugu for that introduction.

On my first day as Secretary of Health and Human Services I had the opportunity to speak with Surgeon General David Satcher and talk about some of the work that he had been doing over the past couple of years as Surgeon General. One of the things that we talked about was this Report on women and smoking. On that first day, Surgeon General Satcher gave me a few facts about the what the Report was finding; I was very disturbed.

That day I promised Surgeon General Satcher that I would use the bully pulpit of the Office of Secretary to decry the harmful affects of smoking as much as I possibly could. I am here today to continue that mission.

I want to thank the Surgeon General David Satcher and his staff, including Deputy Surgeon General Moritsugu, the Office of Women's Health, the Centers for Disease Control and its Office on Smoking and Health, the National Institutes of Health, and the researchers and scientists from throughout the country whose research and study have made this Report possible. This is a tremendous contribution to women's health, and all Americans and women around the world, will benefit from the hard work that went into this Report.

Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General is an update and expansion of the 1980 Surgeon General's Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking for Women. These two Reports taken separately or together demonstrate the devastating consequences of this horrific habit. Currently women suffer 39 percent of all smoking related deaths, more than doubled what it was in 1965.

Never before has our nation taken such a close, hard look at the impact of smoking specifically on women. The results are alarming. The repercussions from women smoking are having a devastating impact on the health of our society.

Since 1980, when the first Surgeon General's Report on smoking by women was released, three million women have died prematurely because of smoking. In fact, nearly 165,000 women die prematurely each and every year because of smoking. That's one every three-and-a-half minutes. That's two by the time I finish this speech and twenty by the time this press conference is over.

We're losing our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and wives too soon directly because they smoked. It's affecting our families, our businesses, our economy, and our communities.

In addition to lung cancer, these women suffered heart disease and emphysema, decreased lung function and pancreatic cancer. They are at greater risk for hip fractures because of lower bone density, and increased risks of Crohn's disease and arthritis.

Women who smoke suffer from conception delay and for both primary and secondary infertility. And women who smoke during pregnancy increase the risk of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, sudden infant death syndrome, and tend to have babies with lower birth weight than normal.

More women die today because of lung cancer than breast cancer, as it killed over 67,000 American women last year. Today, lung cancer accounts for one out of every four cancer-related deaths among women. This is a very powerful reminder of the devastating impact smoking has on women.

And while we are making tremendous strides towards fighting forms of diseases and cancers- lung cancer is still well beyond our grasp. Last year, there was only a 15 percent, five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with lung cancer.

What starts out as a simple puff is turning into a death sentence for thousands of women. And we cannot afford to lose one woman in our society -- particularly from needless smoking related deaths.

This Report of the Surgeon General details and outlines hundreds of studies of women and smoking taken over the course of several years. And one fact remains clear: Smoking is a grave women's health issue.

This Report should serve as a wake-up call to a society of smokers who have neglected to fully comprehend the dangers smoking can bring. This is no longer a series of anecdotal stories…this is irrefutable proof and hard evidence. I hope that this Report leads to a greater understanding of the dire consequences of smoking. Smoking is unsafe at any age, in any amount, and for any period.

Our most important tool in stopping the senseless smoking related deaths is a comprehensive approach to prevent smoking among young women combing education, media campaigns, community programs, price increases, and strong policies. The latest reports indicate that nearly 30 percent of high school senior girls have smoked in the past 30 days. And most adult smokers acknowledge that they first tried cigarettes and tobacco products as teenagers.

The evidence is strong that if we can keep teenage girls from smoking, there is very little chance they will ever smoke as adults.

Smoking is a critical women's health issue that must be addressed on all fronts. We must begin this battle in schools before girls even begin to smoke, and we must share with teen-age girls that smoking is not only harmful, but it is not glamorous. Society must not glorify smoking.

In addition, we must provide information to women and minority groups detailing the harmful affects of smoking as well as the benefits of smoking cessation. The facts are inexorable. Smoking significantly reduces life expectancy and hampers quality of life. This is a message that must be shared. There is some good news in this study, however. Summary finding Chapter 3 number 7 reads:

"Women who stop smoking greatly reduce their risk of dying prematurely. The relative benefits of smoking cessation are greater when women stop smoking at younger ages, but smoking cessation is beneficial at all ages." That is the silver lining in this otherwise dark and ominous cloud of doom. If women and men- if all smokers stop smoking immediately their health will get better. But once they become debilitated with one of these terrible diseases it is too late.

This Report is now on the web, and my Office of Women's Health has just created a new section on smoking on its web site www.4woman.gov. In addition, the Surgeon General and I will be traveling around the country talking about this report and the consequences of smoking, and making information available.

This report shines a bright light on the harmful effects of smoking by women. Now we need to focus on how we as a society can more effectively deter women from smoking.

There's a lot of positive work taking place to reduce smoking throughout this country. But we need to complement those efforts by focusing specifically on women's smoking - how do we do a better job of discouraging them from starting the habit and how do we help those who smoke quit. Seventy-five percent of women who smoke want to quit, but only two-three percent are successful.

Therefore, my office will be working with the Surgeon General and the Office of Women's Health to develop a strategy for specifically tackling the issues surrounding women smoking.

This strategy will not be a top-down approach based on a heavy-handed mandate from the federal government. The federal government cannot fight smoking alone. Instead, it will focus on bringing together in partnership all levels of government, health organizations, parents, teachers, coaches, community groups, the media, and Hollywood. For the only way we will truly be successful in fighting smoking among girls and women is if we all work together to get the message across that this is a deadly habit that isn't worth starting.


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