The 1964 Report on Smoking and Health

Just fifty years ago, scientists and health professionals were debating whether smoking tobacco posed health risks. By the early 1960s there was enough evidence indicating the harmful effects of smoking that the U.S. Surgeon General Luther L. Terry convened a committee of authorities to conduct a thorough review of the scientific literature on the matter.

Over the next two years, the committee reviewed 7,000 scientific studies and consulted with 150 experts. In 1964, the Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General was issued at a press conference. The report concluded that smoking causes lung cancer and correlates with an increased risk of bronchitis, emphysema, and heart disease. In addition, the report noted a correlation between smoking during pregnancy and low birth weights.  

The U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry addressing press conference
at the release of the 1964 Report on Smoking and Health
For those of us where weren’t alive, it may be difficult to believe the extent to which this news impacted the public. The Surgeon General’s press conference headlined in newspapers and lead television news for days. Soon after the report was issued, Congress passed a law requiring a health warning on cigarette packages and in 1969, cigarette advertising on television and radio was banned.
1998 anti-smoking campaign poster from the
Centers for Disease Control
However, the cultural shift heralded by this event is perhaps more notable. At the time, upwards of 40% of Americans smoked, compared to an estimated 18% today. In addition, a 1958 Gallup Poll reported that 44% of American believed smoking causes lung cancer. This number rose to 78% in 1968 and to 92% in 1999. If you look around, you will sometimes see ashtrays in places where smoking is now unimaginable such as classrooms, airplanes, and government buildings!

Many individuals and organizations, governmental and otherwise, have contributed to the decline in tobacco use since 1964 Report on Smoking and Health, but we can point to the publication of this document as seminal in United States history.

To learn more about using primary sources in your research, visit the Albertsons Library Special Collections & Archives Primary Sources Guide or stop by and visit!

Sources consulted:

Fast Facts.” Smoking and Tobacco Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

History of the Surgeon General's Reports on Smoking and Health.” Smoking and Tobacco Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Komaroff, Anthony. “Surgeon General’s 1964 report: making smoking history.” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School.

Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. University of California, San Francisco.

Morales, Lymari. “Most Americans Consider Smoking Very Harmful.” Gallup News.

The Reports of the Surgeon General: The 1964 Report on Smoking and Health.” Profiles in Science. National Library of Science.

Tobacco.” Initiatives. Surgeon General.Gov.

Ellie Dworak
Reference Librarian/Associate Professor

This blog post is the 8th in a series produced in coordination with Albertsons Library’s 50th Anniversary.  #BoiseStLibraryat50

No comments: