August 2018

COMBATTING A COMMON ADDICTION

When public health initiatives are at odds with personal addictions and powerful corporations, effecting cultural change can be tricky and as slow as turning a battleship. Such was the case in 1950 when British physiologist and epidemiologist SIR RICHARD DOLL undertook a study with Austin Bradford Hill that definitively linked cigarettes with lung cancer and many other diseases. For the next two decades, tobacco companies and lobbyists refuted Doll’s claim and waged an aggressive media campaign to debunk it. Internal documents would later show how deliberately these forces had been
marshalled to deceive the public on the dangers of smoking.

By 1964, Surgeon General Luther Terry issued a report acknowledging the health risks of tobacco, which forged a new direction for public health officials. While it took many more years to influence policy-makers and change the beliefs and behaviors of the general public, ultimately millions of lives have been saved by the Surgeon General’s Warning.

Despite proven medical research, it often takes years of perseverance for public health campaigns to take hold and succeed.

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“By the year 2025, 500 million people will die of smoking. Now, that’s a Vietnam War every day for 27 years. That’s the Titanic sinking every 27 minutes for 27 years.”
C. Everett Koop, United States Surgeon General 1982-1989

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