Smoking: The Government Report

  • Share
  • Read Later

The conclusion was just about what everybody had expected. "On the basis of prolonged study and evaluation," the 150,000-word report declared, "the committee makes the following judgment: Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the U.S. to warrant appropriate remedial action." More significant than the words was their source: it was the unanimous report of an impartial committee of top experts in several health fields, backed by the full authority of the U.S. Government.

The basic facts about the ill effects of smoking on health have been known for years. But the Government kept shying away from the problem. Not until 1962 did President Kennedy, under mounting pressure from medical groups, decide that the Government should make its own study. Surgeon General Luther L. Terry of the U.S. Public Health Service was charged with naming an expert committee to decide, simply, "Is smoking bad?"

Switch in Mid-Study. For his committee, Dr. Terry chose ten men of unquestionable repute from leading universities. None had ever taken a public stand on the controversy. Three, like Terry himself, smoked cigarettes: Minnesota's Dr. Leonard M. Schuman, Harvard's William G. Cochran and Dr. Louis F. Fieser. One smoked cigars: Michigan's Dr. Maurice H. Seevers. One smoked a pipe: Texas' Dr. Charles A. LeMaistre. Five were nonsmokers: the Army's (formerly Cornell's) Dr. Stanhope Bayne-Jones, Pittsburgh's Dr. Emmanuel Farber, Utah's Dr. Walter J. Burdette, Columbia's Dr. Jacob Furth, Indiana's Dr. lohn B. Hickam. (Halfway through the study, Dr. Terry switched from cigarettes to a pipe.)

The committee proved itself to be a deep-digging, shirt-sleeved group. Members worked like prairie dogs, most of the time five stories underground in the basement of the National Library of Medicine at Bethesda, Md. Their task was not to do original research, but to evaluate 8,000 studies, many mainly statistical, by other investigators from around the world. The job included a last-minute appraisal of the massive analysis presented by the American Cancer Society's E. Cuyler Hammond to the A.M.A. in Portland, Ore. (TIME, Dec. 13). At the end of 14 months' study, the committee found that:

> Cigarette smoking "contributes substantially to mortality from certain specific diseases and to the overall death rate." Its effects are in direct proportion to the number of cigarettes smoked and the number of years the habit persists.

> The sharpest risk is lung cancer, from which cigarette smokers have a death rate almost eleven times as high as that for nonsmokers. Smokers' death rates from other diseases are: bronchitis and emphysema, 6.1 times the rate for nonsmokers; cancer of the larynx, 5.4 times as high; ulcers of the stomach and duodenum, 2.8; cancer of the bladder, 1.9; coronary artery disease, 1.7; hypertensive heart disease, 1.5. (Heart and artery diseases combined cause many more premature deaths than does lung cancer.)

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2