Smoking primarily contributes to early deaths through heart diseases and cancers. Globally, more than one in five cancer deaths are attributed to smoking.
This means tobacco kills more people every day than terrorism kills in a year.
Smoking was very much a 20th century problem. It was rare at the beginning of the century, but then – decade after decade – it became steadily more common. By the 1960s it was extremely widespread: on average, American adults were buying more than 10 cigarettes every day.
The statistical work that identified smoking as the major cause of the rise in lung cancer deaths began in the post-war periods and culminated in the 1964 report of the US Surgeon General. This report is seen as a turning point in the history of smoking as it made clear to the public just how deadly it was.
Once people learned that smoking kills, they could act on it. It took some time, but they did.