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Published On: Sat, Jan 11th, 2014

This Day in History: 50 years ago surgeon general announced dangers of smoking

The headlines focused more on bronchitis than cancer as the surgeon general, Dr Luther Terry, announced the risks of smoking and called for “appropriate remedial action.”

Image/CDC

Image/CDC

Debate over the hazards and benefits of smoking has divided physicians, scientists, governments, smokers, and non-smokers since Tobacco nicotiana was first imported to Europe from its native soil in the Americas in the sixteenth century.

A dramatic increase in cigarette smoking in the United States in the twentieth century called forth anti-smoking movements.

Evidence of the ill effects of smoking accumulated during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Epidemiologists used statistics and large-scale, long-term, case-control surveys to link the increase in lung cancer mortality to smoking. Pathologists and laboratory scientists confirmed the statistical relationship of smoking to lung cancer as well as to other serious diseases, such as bronchitis, emphysema, and coronary heart disease.

On June 12, 1957, Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney declared it the official position of the U.S. Public Health Service that the evidence pointed to a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

3 1/2 years later the report “hit the country like a bombshell. It was front page news and a lead story on every radio and television station in the United States and many abroad,” as Terry remembers the event years later.

The 1964 report stated:

the Advisory Committee concluded that cigarette smoking is—

  • A cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men
  • A probable cause of lung cancer in women
  • The most important cause of chronic bronchitis

Check out the report HERE

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