50th Anniversary of Historic US Surgeon General's Smoking Report
It was Jan. 11, 1964 that then Surgeon General Luther Terry released the report that said “smoking causes illness and death – and the government should do something about it.” At that time statistics indicated that 42 percent of US adults smoked; today’s smoking rate is 18 percent.
I can remember – as I’m sure many of you can – that ashtrays were found on almost every desk, coffee table, end table, night stand, kitchen and bathroom counter, and who knows where else. Watching my mother purchase a carton or two of Camels at the grocery store each week was the norm. As I became a little older I remember the checkers at the grocery store even let me buy them for my mom because they knew she was a regular shopper there and she was a regular smoker!
But when the Surgeon General came forward with his message in 1964 it wasn’t breaking news. Since 1950 studies in medical journals had found higher rates of lung cancer in heavy smokers. And a Reader’s Digest article in 1952, “Cancer by the Carton” contributed to the largest drop in cigarette use since the Depression. Talk about the power of the printed word long before the internet and social media!
As is well known, the tobacco industry fought back with a vengeance. But over the years more and more restrictions have limited smoking in public places. Key dates in the fight against tobacco since the Surgeon General’s report in the past 50 years (directly from the AP article) include:
1964: US Surgeon General’s report concludes smoking causes lung cancer
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