Fighting for Air – the Story of the American Lung Association
Since the 1950s, the American Lung Association has battled against the scourge of tobacco use, which is a major cause of lung-related deaths and disease. One of our primary weapons today is advocacy, working to change public policy and making sure laws and regulations are enforced to reduce smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke and tobacco industry marketing.
The Lung Association was one of the first organizations to counter the tobacco industry's deception and warn people about the dangers of smoking. The Lung Association has also pushed for laws to eliminate exposure to toxic secondhand smoke, starting with airplanes in the early 1990s and now in all public places and workplaces.
But our story begins farther back – more than 100 years ago. Now in our second century, the American Lung Association saves lives, by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. The American Lung Association is fighting for air through research, education and advocacy.
Fighting From the Start
The American Lung Association was founded in 1904 to combat tuberculosis, decades before antibiotics made it a curable disease. Tuberculosis (TB) was the most feared disease in the world, striking down the young and old, the rich and poor.
Over the next 50 years, the Lung Association played a critical role in developing and funding increasingly effective weapons to prevent, detect and treat the disease. By the late 1950s, tuberculosis was largely controlled in the U.S. But our work was far from over.
Taking on Smoking
In fighting TB, we learned that by harnessing political will and using the right advocacy tools, we could tame a horrible public health problem. With the same goal, the American Lung Association targeted tobacco use.
By the late 1950s, scientific evidence was mounting that smoking was a cause of lung cancer and other serious ailments. In response, the Lung Association began warning the public about the dangers of smoking even before the U.S. Surgeon General's landmark report on smoking in 1964. From there, our fight grew into a sophisticated public health-based campaign for research, education and advocacy on the issue.
Unlike TB, however, smoking had (and still has) a powerful industry supporting it. Close to half of the U.S. population smoked in 1964. A person could smoke virtually anywhere. The fight has taken time, resources and commitment—and we continue to fight.
The positive impact of our fight is clear. Smoking rates have dropped by more than half since 1965. We also joined the fight against toxic secondhand smoke indoors in the 1970s. We led the successful effort to prohibit smoking on airplanes in the 1990s, and side-by-side with our public health partner organizations, have successfully advocated for comprehensive laws prohibiting smoking in public and workplaces in 28 states and the District of Columbia, as well as hundreds of local communities.
Learn more about the milestones in our fight against smoking.
The Fight Continues Today
Although we have made much progress towards ending tobacco use, the tobacco industry fights our efforts at every turn. Nineteen percent of adults in America still smoke, leading to more than 393,000 deaths from smoking each year.
Our proven programs like Freedom from Smoking® continue to help people across the country quit smoking. We're funding research that continues to reveal the effects of smoking and the secrets of lung diseases, from asthma to lung cancer. And year-round, we're engaging with local, state and federal officials, as well as the courts, to keep our air smokefree and our lungs healthy.
During 2012, states received billions of dollars in tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, but by and large, failed to use these dollars to prevent and reduce tobacco use through tobacco prevention and cessation programs. One state, North Dakota, approved a comprehensive smokefree law in 2012 and one other state, Illinois, raised its cigarette tax by an amount that will impact smoking rates. However, the federal government's progress in fighting tobacco use over the past several years nearly ground to a halt in 2012. Most notably, the Food and Drug Administration failed to exercise its oversight authority, allowing for the proliferation of a new generation of tobacco products aimed at hooking young smokers.
The American Lung Association will continue to fight for public policies to reduce tobacco use in 2013 and beyond, but we need your help. Join our fight today.