Anti-smoking advocates say more can be done to reduce smoking

Fifty years ago this week, the U.S. Surgeon General first issued a warning about the health risks from tobacco use.

Today, smoking is way down from what it was in 1964, but health advocates say more can be done.

For one thing, doctors know much more about the adverse effects of tobacco use today than they did a half-century ago.

Dr. Emily Touloukian of Coastal Cancer Center in Myrtle Beach says the chemicals in cigarette smoke are toxic for the entire body.

"We know that smoking can increase your risk of heart disease, of stroke and of lung disease. It also contributes to the risk of several cancers, including lung cancer, but also bladder cancer, cancers of the mouth and throat," said Dr. Touloukian.

Back in 1964, 42 percent of Americans were smokers. Today, that's down to 19 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

But officials say more can be done, especially in South Carolina, which has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation and fewer workers covered by laws to prevent secondhand smoke.

"We have 30 to 40 percent of our population covered by smoke-free indoor workplace ordinances. We can do better," said Denise Richbourg with the American Cancer Society.

In our area, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach have indoor smoke-free ordinances, but Richbourg says the whole state should have that legislation.

In Horry County, the Centers for Disease Control says the adult smoking rate is 23 percent, which is higher than the state or national average.

Also, the CDC says the county has one of the highest teen smoking rates in the state.

While all of the county's school campuses are now smoke-free, Richbourg says more work is needed.

"We really have to teach our students from home, into the classroom and beyond, get them involved, get them compelled."

Richbourg says the ultimate goal is to reduce smoking to zero percent of the population and it will take grassroots community by community effort to get it done.

Despite the progress that has been made in reducing the smoking rate, a Surgeon General's report released Friday says nearly a half million Americans will die from smoking-related diseases this year.