Smokers nationwide received the first official report from the Surgeon General that smoking could cause conditions such as lung cancer and heart disease on Jan. 11, 1964.
It has now been 50 years since that report was issued, and according to public health officials in Delaware, it has lead to a change in people's attitude about tobacco.
"It's pretty amazing that it was only 50 years ago that people began to get the message that tobacco is harmful," said Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health. "No other single report has ever had this large an effect on public health."
Tobacco, however, is still the leading cause of preventable death in Delaware, in the form of diseases such a lung cancer, stroke and cardiovascular disease, Rattay said.
About 34 percent of Delaware residents smoked cigarettes in 1979, and an additional 3 percent smoked pipes or cigars, according to the "Health Styles of Delaware Residents," survey conducted by Response Analysis of Princeton for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Delaware.
As of 2012, roughly 20 percent of Delawareans smoked cigarettes. An additional 4.5 percent used smokeless tobacco such as snuff and chewing tobacco, according to The Division of Public Health's Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. In Kent County, 25.2 percent of adults smoked, as of 2011, according to the survey.
Beyond the statistics are people like Hartly resident Leanne Andrews, who began smoking in the early 1980s at the age of 12. Her mom was a smoker and bought cigarettes by the carton. Andrews says she would sneak packs out of her mom's carton and rearrange the packs so her mom didn't notice.
"I think I started because I fit in with the people I hung out with," Andrews said.
Rob LaQuay, a Dover resident, also began smoking at an early age. He started smoking at the age of 15. At that time cigarettes were $1.25 at the store near his house, and LaQuay would ride his bike down to the store and get change for $2. He would pretend he was going to use the payphone, but would sneak around and buy cigarettes out of a vending machine by the bathrooms. LaQuay, much like Andrews, wanted to fit in.
"I thought that was what the cool older people were doing," LaQuay said. "I was kind of shy as a kid, so I thought if I looked cool, people would be friends with me."
Both Andrews and LaQuay continued to smoke into their adult years. LaQuay estimates that between he and his wife, who is also an ex-smoker, they were spending roughly $200 every two weeks on cigarettes. Andrews also looks back in shock at how much money she spent on cigarettes.
"It was such a waste of money," Andrews said. "I can remember having X amount of money to grocery shop, but I always made sure I had a carton of cigarettes. I look back on it as me being selfish. That was money I could have spent on my family."
Page 2 of 2 - Andrews smoked until the age 41. She remembers the exact day she stopped − May 17, 2010, that was the day that she had a heart attack. She hasn't smoked since.
LaQuay smoked until the age of 36, when a job transfer moved him and his family away from everything they knew and brought them to Dover. It was just the change he needed. He broke out of his routine and he hasn't smoked in four years.
During the 21 years he smoked, LaQuay has seen the landscape of culture change toward smoking.
"I definitely think it's more taboo than it was back then," he said. "I was born in 1977 and you could see people smoke on TV and in movies. It was so much more mainstream. [Back] then you could smoke in businesses and restaurants. It's come a long way, more people are educated about it … there are way more people out there today that view it negatively."
Editor's Note: Sources for this story were crowdsourced via the Dover Post's Facebook page.