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Our opinion: Positive air in cancer report

It wasn’t that long ago that the distinctive odor of cigarette smoke – and the way it would burn the throats of nonsmokers – was an everyday part of life.

People smoked in restaurants. They smoked on planes. They smoked at concerts of all types. They smoked at shopping centers. They even smoked in movie theaters.

Now, smoking is prohibited in most public places, and legions of adult Americans have either quit smoking or have never taken up the habit. In 1970, close to half of American adults smoked. Now, it’s just 14%.

That is an undeniably positive development for public health, lifespans, and our pocketbooks, given the toll smoking exacts on both individuals and the wider public in the form of increased health care costs.

It’s long been known that smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, and this week the American Lung Association released its annual report on the state of lung cancer in Pennsylvania, and it contains plenty of encouraging news. The commonwealth is eighth in the nation for screening, 10th for survival and seventh for treatment. It puts Pennsylvania in the top rank of states in combating lung cancer.

Aimee VanCleave, the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania, said that more people are surviving lung cancer because of increased awareness, research into new treatments and improved health care access. But, VanCleave noted that lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths both here and across the country – more people die of lung cancer in any year than cancers of the prostate, breast and colon combined – and that “we have more work to do to defeat lung cancer….”

We look with some amazement now at how many people smoked 50 years ago. Fifty years from now, it could be so rare that most people will probably wonder why anyone ever took up such a deadly habit in the first place.

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