The Surgeon General's Report at 50: Not a Golden Anniversary

New film on smoking may be hazardous to viewers' preconceptions

Released: 9-Jan-2014 10:15 AM EST
Source Newsroom: University of Alabama
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Newswise — TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary this month of the landmark Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health with a new report, “The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress,” a University of Alabama veteran anti-smoking strategist argues in a provocative new documentary released online that efforts to reduce smoking have become more symbol than substance.

“Blowing Smoke: The Lost Legacy of the Surgeon General’s Report,” a film by Dr. Alan Blum, director of UA’s Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, chronicles what Blum calls “the fear, foot-dragging and squandering of funds on the part of public health agencies, universities and organized medicine alike in ending the smoking pandemic.”

In releasing the Surgeon General’s Report on Jan. 11, 1964, Dr. Luther L. Terry, the nation’s physician-in-chief, declared that “Cigarette smoking is causally related to lung cancer in men and is a health hazard of sufficient importance to warrant appropriate remedial action.”

However, such action has been far too little and late because of the failure for decades to confront and outsmart the tobacco industry, according to Blum.

“Surgeon General Terry’s indictment of cigarettes in 1964 should have marked the beginning of the end of the Marlboro Man,” Blum said. “Yet far from riding off into the sunset, the tobacco industry is riding high in the saddle.”

Blum points to the record profits of the nation’s leading cigarette manufacturer Altria, maker of Marlboro; the company’s campus recruitment of college students as the new Marlboro sales force; and the significant investment in Altria by TIAA-CREF and other major pension funds.

Moreover, although the percentage of American adults who smoke has declined to 20 percent, the number of people who continue using cigarettes — nearly 45 million — is nearly the same as in 1964.

“The 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report is hardly a time for celebration,” Blum said. “Rather, it should be a sobering reminder of the missed opportunities to reduce demand for cigarettes, which remain the nation’s number one avoidable cause of cancer, heart disease, emphysema and high health costs.

“That nearly all government funding allocated to fight smoking is spent on research that adds very little to what we have known since 1964 is disgraceful. It suggests that the most addictive thing about tobacco today is money.”

To view “Blowing Smoke” online, visit http://youtu.be/M1zk5_xqOH4 . The movie is 23 minutes. Highlights of the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report can be found at http://youtu.be/JTLEjRW1XSQ.

The Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society at UA, established in 1998, holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of original materials in the country on the tobacco industry and the anti-smoking movement over the past century. The center produces museum exhibitions, journal articles, films and historical presentations.

Two of the center’s exhibitions on the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health are on view through June at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin and the Texas Medical Center Library in Houston.


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