Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fifty Years Ago today - January 11, 1964

The lid came off the tobacco industry and the surgeon general announced that smoking causes cancer.  Before I jump right in, I'll give you a little background on this.

Back in high school, the precocious 14 year old I was wrote a rebellious English paper on the history of  drug use in the United States. I did research and learned about the opium trade with China and that marijuana was not made illegal until the 1930s. Tobacco had become a cash crop and built up the antebellum southern states. The government stepped in an d started regulating the snake oil salesmen remedies and their contents which led to the beginning of the regulations.

But tobacco smoking in the first half of the 20th century, was thought of as enervating and youthful. At first it was scandalous for women to smoke but then came socially acceptable. Post WWII advertising included the health benefits of smoking. In the medical world smoking was debated as to whether it was health or not. At the beginning of the movie Forrest Gump, the doctor is smoking as he examines the young Forrest - which would not have been unusual at all.

The medical world debated the benefits or carcinogens of tobacco smoking through the 1950's. The first change happened when Readers Digest published in December 1952 a widely read article titled "Cancer by the Carton". This difficult to read copy is only copy of this article I could find but its not long and worth the read. It was written by Roy Norr and condensed from a much longer article in the Christian Herald - of which I can find no trace.

Earlier this week,the Boston Globe provided a detailed article on the impact of the Surgeon General's final report released fifty years ago today and the changes that have happened. Long but definitely worth the read to understand the impact of smoking on American Society. Have you been to a garage sale recently of an older family? How many ashtrays are being sold off? We moved into our 1959 built house and found tucked in a corner coupons for cigarettes dating from the 1970s.

Vintage 1949, Ronald Reagan was famously shown in an ad saying he sends cigarettes to all his friends for the holidays.

Now another recent article talks about how many millions of lives have been saved due to tobacco control. Other benefits of tobacco control include smoke free buildings, restaurants, parks and more.

This was a huge step in reducing cancer rates - especially lung cancer. Take a deep breath of fresh air today and remember how it used to be with smoking everywhere. Yes I am a former smoker and appreciate the non-smoking world now.

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