History records the surgeon general’s report of Jan. 11, 1964, as the pivotal date in the fight against tobacco smoking.
The report was pivotal because, for the first time, the government’s chief health official made an unequivocal finding of the link between tobacco and lung cancer. It was the beginning of the end of weak-kneed weasel-wording.
Those of us with memories that date back 10 years or so before that will recall that, for years, the tobacco industry took the position that the evidence that smoking was one of the leading causes of death was just coincidental.
Politicians from tobacco-growing states zealously defended the cash crop of their most wealthy constituents.
Even the White House is reported to have pulled its punches on cigarette links to cancer to limit repercussions from the tobacco industry.
In 1954, the industry published what it called a “Frank Statement” in 448 newspapers in 285 cities, challenging research that linked tobacco to cancer.
As early as the 1940s, several cigarette manufacturers had begun advertising that their products were safer than the products of their competitors.
Cigarette broadcast advertising is now banned, and cigarette packaging is required to carry prominent labels acknowledging the proven dangers of smoking.
If my Internet research is correct, all states now have a minimum smoking age of at least 18, and there is a trend toward raising the age to 21. Some retailers have voluntarily restricted sales to customers at least 21 years old.
In a transparent effort to create a new “politically correct” smoking option, “vaping” was introduced as a new way to lure teenagers into smoking.
Fortunately, the vaping alternative was called out for what it is, and it is facing increasing restrictions from both state legislatures and marketers.
Further, both laws and corporate policies are restricting or banning smoking in public buildings and places of employment because of the demonstrated health impact of “second hand smoke” on non-smokers.
Tobacco remains the only product in America that is legally manufactured and sold despite the fact that it has been shown to cause death when used as directed. In a country which puts so much emphasis on “product safety,” this is an anomaly of unmatched proportions.
It is particularly encouraging to see employers, merchants, and state legislatures picking up leadership when the federal government fails to impose more stringent measures to confront this public health menace.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired, and at age 78, is a life-long non-smoker. His great-grandfather, a non-smoker, lived to the age of 91. His grandfather died of throat cancer at the age of 74 after smoking cigars all his adult life. His father, a long-time smoker, quit cold turkey the day the surgeon general’s report was released when he was 49, and lived to the age of 89.)