U.S. Surgeon General Announces Link Between Smoking and Cancer
American Surgeon General Luther Terry knew his report was a bomb. He voluntarily chose to release it on January 11, 1964, a Saturday, in order to limit its immediate effects on the stock market. It was on this date that, on behalf of the US government, Terry announced a definitive link between smoking and cancer.
The link had long been suspected. Anecdotal evidence has always pointed to the harmful effects of smoking on health, and by the 1930s doctors saw an increase in cases of lung cancer. The first medical studies that raised serious concerns were published in Britain in the late 1940s.
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American cigarette companies spent much of the next decade lobbying the government to continue to smoke legally and to have advertising reduce the levels of tar and nicotine in their products. 44 percent of Americans already believed smoking caused cancer in 1958, and a number of medical associations have warned that tobacco use was linked to both lung and heart disease. Despite all of this, nearly half of Americans smoked, and smoking was common in restaurants, bars, offices, and homes across the country.
Dr Terry commissioned the report in 1962 and two years later published the results, titled Smoking and health, which has established a conclusive link between smoking and heart and lung cancer in men. The report also said the same link was likely true for women, although women smoke at lower rates and therefore there is not enough data available.
The news was major, but not surprising: the New York Times reported the results saying “it couldn’t have been otherwise”. Still, the Surgeon General’s report was a major milestone in health officials’ crusade against smoking. Although tobacco companies spent millions and millions and were largely successful in pushing back anti-smoking laws until the 1990s, studies found the report increased the percentage of Americans who believed in the link to cancer. at 70% and that smoking was down about 11% between 1965 and 1985. California became the first state to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces in 1995. 25 other states have now passed similar laws, including 50 of America’s 60 largest cities. In 2019, the Surgeon General announced a link between serious illness and e-cigarettes, an alternative to smoking in which traditional tobacco companies have invested heavily.
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