Historic report that changed the face of smoking in the U.S. turns 50
The committee said cigarette smoking clearly did cause lung cancer and was responsible for the nation's escalating male cancer death rate. It also said there was no valid evidence filters were reducing the danger. The committee also said — more vaguely — that the government should address the problem.
"This was front-page news, and every American knew it," said Robin Koval, president of Legacy, an anti-smoking organization.
Cigarette consumption dropped a whopping 15 percent over the next three months but then began to rebound. Health officials realized it would take more than one report.
In 1965, Congress required cigarette packs to carry warning labels. Two years later, the Federal Communications Commission ordered TV and radio stations to provide free air time for anti-smoking public service announcements. Cigarette commercials were banned in 1971.
Still, progress was slow. Warner recalled teaching at the University of Michigan in 1972, when nearly half the faculty members at the school of public health were smokers. He was one of them.
"I felt like a hypocrite and an idiot," he said. But smoking was still the norm, and it was difficult to quit, he said.
The 1970s also saw the birth of a movement to protect nonsmokers from cigarette fumes, with no-smoking sections on airplanes, in restaurants and in other places. Those eventually gave way to complete smoking bans. Cigarette machines disappeared, cigarette taxes rose, and restrictions on the sale of cigarettes to minors got tougher.
Tobacco companies also came under increasing legal attack. In the biggest case of them all, more than 40 states brought lawsuits demanding compensation for the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. Big Tobacco settled in 1998 by agreeing to pay about $200 billion and curtail marketing of cigarettes to youths.
In 1998, while the settlement was being completed, tobacco executives appeared before Congress and publicly acknowledged for the first time that their products can cause lung cancer and be addictive.
Experts agree that the Terry report clearly triggered decades of changes that whittled the smoking rate down. But it was based on data that was already out there. Why, then, did it make such a difference?
For one thing, the drumbeat about the dangers of smoking was getting louder in 1964, experts said. But the way the committee was assembled and the carefully neutral manner in which it reached its conclusion were at least as important, said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At the same time, he and others said any celebration of the anniversary must be tempered by the size of the problem that still exists.
Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking, according to the CDC.
Donald Shopland finds that depressing.
Fifty years ago, he was a 19-year-old who smoked two packs a day while working as a clerk for the surgeon general's committee. He quit cigarettes right after the 1964 report came out, and went on to a long and distinguished public health career in which he wrote or edited scores of books and reports on smoking's effects.
"We should be much further along than we are," the Georgia retiree lamented.
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