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The Surgeon General’s Priorities

As the Nation’s Doctor, the U.S. Surgeon General is focused on improving the country’s health.  The Surgeon General communicates the best available scientific information to the public, using the position’s platform to reach individuals where they live, work, and play and by issuing scientific documents - Surgeon General’s Reports and Calls to Action – on critical public health issues.

The Office of the Surgeon General also has its own peer-reviewed journal.   Published since 1878, Public Health Reports issues original research and commentaries in the areas of tobacco control, health disparities, and critical and emerging public health issues.

As a Vice Admiral in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the Surgeon General leads a uniformed service of 6,700 highly qualified public health officers, who are committed to protecting, promoting and advancing the public health of our country and our world.  Officers serve throughout the nation in communities that are most in need by providing essential health care services to underserved and vulnerable populations.

The Surgeon General’s priorities include:


Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and worldwide. A tobacco free lifestyle not only means a lower risk of early death – it also means less chance of developing heart disease, cancer, lung disease, stroke, periodontal disease, and a host of other health conditions. The Surgeon General's Reports on the adverse health consequences of smoking and tobacco have triggered nationwide efforts to prevent tobacco use. In 2014, the 32nd Surgeon General's report on smoking and health highlighted half a century of progress in tobacco control and prevention in the U.S.

In 2016, the Office of the Surgeon General released E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General.  The report finds that, while nicotine is a highly addictive drug at any age, youth and young adults are uniquely vulnerable to the long-term consequences of exposing the brain to nicotine, and concludes that youth use of nicotine in any form is unsafe. The report also finds that secondhand aerosol that is exhaled into the air by e-cigarette users can expose others to potentially harmful chemicals.


Today in America, addiction is a public health crisis.  The opioid epidemic and substance use disorders more broadly have become one of the most common chronic illnesses in the U.S.  In 2015, nearly 21 million Americans – more than the number of people who have all cancers combined – suffer from a substance use disorder involving alcohol or drugs – but only 1 in 10 receives treatment. One in 7 people in the U.S. is expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point in lives.  

In 2016, the Office of the Surgeon General launched a national opioid campaign called “Turn the Tide Rx,” based on the concept of “prescribers talking to prescribers.” The campaign included a national listening tour focused on educating and mobilizing prescribers to take action to end this epidemic followed by sending a personal letter to 2.3 million health care professionals urging them to: improve prescribing practices, inform their patients about the risks of opioid addiction and connect people with opioid use disorders to evidence-based treatment.

The Office of the Surgeon General also released the first ever Surgeon General’s report on Substance Use and Addiction in November 2016. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health addresses alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription drug misuse, with chapters dedicated to neurobiology, prevention, treatment, recovery, health systems integration and recommendations for the future. It provides an in-depth look at the science of substance use disorders and addiction, calls for a cultural shift in the way Americans talk about the issue, and recommends actions we can take to prevent and treat these conditions, and promote recovery.

Mental and Emotional Well-Being

Mental and emotional health is just as important to our overall well-being as our physical health. Mental illness is responsible for more disability than any other group of illnesses. But a large percentage of people with mental health conditions may not feel comfortable talking about their condition or getting effective treatment. The Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health (1999) spotlights ways to overcome barriers to treatment. Positive mental and emotional well-being allows people to realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively, and make meaningful contributions to their communities. 

Active Living and Healthy Eating

Regular physical activity is one of the most important things that people of all ages can do to improve their health. Step it Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities calls on us to increase walking by working together to increase access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll, and to create a culture that supports walking for Americans of all ages and abilities.  We all have a role to play in making walking easier. 

In addition, it is important to make sure we incorporate proper nutrition.  The Surgeon General is committed to providing evidence-based information on healthy diets and ensuring that healthy choices are accessible, affordable, and desirable.   

Emerging Public Health Threats

As the Nation’s Doctor, the Surgeon General is responsible for communicating the best available science to the American people.  The Surgeon General provides the facts on emerging public health threats, such as Ebola and Zika, gives an update on the government response, and lists steps individuals can take to protect themselves and their families. 

National Prevention Strategy

Most of the nation’s pressing health problems can be prevented. The National Prevention Strategy is a report that aims to guide our nation in the most effective and achievable means for improving health and well-being.