There is overwhelming evidence that cigarette smoking causes not only lung cancer but an array of other often fatal diseases -- other lung illness, other cancers and many diseases -- federal health officials said yesterday.
They based their assertion on a massive new bederal report, which concludes, "Today there can be no doubt that smoking is truly slow-motion suicide."
Yet, they also reported, 54 million Americans, a third of all those 18 and older, still smoke 15 years after thensurgeon general Luther Terry declared cigarettes to be a health hazard -- and smoking is on the increase among teen-age girls and among children.
"One hundred thousand children under age 13 are regular smokers," said Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr., who has been leading an HEW war against smoking almost since he took office two years. ago.
So many women smoke that by 1983 lung cancer is expected to overtake breast cancer as the leading cause of famale cancer deaths, said Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General Julius Richmond.
Richmond formally presented the new "Surgeon General's Report," ordered by Califano to sum up thousannds of scientific studies since 1964. The 1,200-page report, by far the most comprehensive since Terry's declaration, shows "cigarette smoking is far more dangerous to health than we believed in 1964," Richmond said.
The document also presented some victories.
"Public education can work," said Califano as he displayed figures showing that last year -- the year of his department's most intense effort against smoking -- the nation saw its first drop in total cigarette consumption in 10 years.
Also, per-capita use of cigarettes dropped to its lowest level in 10 years -- to 3,965 cigarettes per person 18 and older, compared with a peak of 4,336 cigarettes in 1963, the year just before Terry's report.
In 1978, the new report showed, 37.5 percent of all adult men smoked, compared with 51 percent in 1965, and the figure dropped from 41.9 percent between 1976 and 1978 alone.
In 1978, 29.6 percent of women were still smoking, down only a few percentage points from 33.3 percent in 1965, but down most of that distance from 32 percent in 1976.
In short, Califano said, the most dramatic drops in smoking have occurred when there have been major efforts to publicize smoking's risks. His efforts in this regard have embroiled him in steady controversy with the tobacco industry throughout his tenure at HEW.
Among newer knowledge, the report states that cancers of the mouth, esophagus and bladder are among diseases that can be caused or partly caused by smoking, in many cases.
Workers in the asbestos, rubber, coal, textile and uranium industries -- and workers exposed to dust -- run especially high risk, of cancer if they are also smokers. Smoking rates -- and smoking-related death rates -- are disproportionately high among black men and among all blue-collar workers.
For the future, Califano pledged:
A program "to reach every expectant mother... with a medical warning about the potential risks to her baby if she smokes." These risks include spontaneous abortion during pregnancy, greater chance of deficiencies in physical growth, development and health, and death.
New warnings to children and youth of smoking's dangers, including the fact that damage to the lungs and other organs begins almost immedately, though a smoker at almost any age can greatly improve chances of survival if he or she stops.
Information about carbon monoxide gas levels in addition to tar and nicotine in future cigarette ratings.
More effort within HEW. Spending on smoking research and education is rising from $19 million in fiscal 1978 to $29 million in the current fiscal year, and will be still higher in fiscal 1980, Califano said.
Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head of the Public Citizen Health Research Group, called HEW'x effort a "sham battle against smoking," in part because the sums spent are dwarfed by $463 million in federal spending on drug abuse. Drug abuse costs the nation $10 billion yearly, in medical care and lost wages, while smoking costs the nation between $17 billion and $26 billion, he said.
On the other side of the fence, the tobacco industry, through its Washington-based Tobacco Institute, blasted Califano in advance for preparing a "personal" propaganda "rehash," rather than new facts.
The institute published some scientific reports that it said refute any contention that smoking causes death and disease.
Richmond replied yesterday, "there is no controverting evidence that is significant." Caifono said the HEW effort is no personal crusade, but a fulfillment of his responsibility, and an effort urged on him by Richmond, other doctors and at least one cancer victim: Maryvella Bayh, wife of Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.). She is a breast cancer patient and was a smiling member of Califano's audience yesterday.