History of the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health
1964 Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health
- More than 40 years ago, on January
11, 1964, Luther L. Terry, M.D., Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health
Service, released the report of the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee
on Smoking and Health. That landmark document, now referred to as the first
Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health, was America's first widely
publicized official recognition that cigarette smoking is a cause of cancer
and other serious diseases.
- On the basis of more than 7,000 articles relating to smoking and disease
already available at that time in the biomedical literature, the Advisory
Committee concluded that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer and laryngeal
cancer in men, a probable cause of lung cancer in women, and the most important
cause of chronic bronchitis. The committee stated that "Cigarette smoking
is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant
appropriate remedial action."
- What would constitute "appropriate remedial action" was left unspecified.
But the release of the report was the first in a series of steps, still being
taken more than 40 years later, to diminish the impact of tobacco use on the
health of the American people.
- The circumstances surrounding the release of the first report in 1964
are worth remembering. The date chosen was a Saturday morning to guard against
a precipitous reaction on Wall Street. An auditorium in the State Department
was selected because its security could be assuredit had been the site for
press conferences of the late President John F. Kennedy, whose assassination
had occurred fewer than 2 months earlier.
- The first two copies of the 387-page, brown-covered report were hand delivered
to the West Wing of the White House at 7:30 on that Saturday morning. At 9:00,
accredited press representatives were admitted to the auditorium and "locked-in,"
without access to telephones. Surgeon General Terry and his Advisory Committee
took their seats on the platform. The report was distributed and reporters
were allowed 90 minutes to read it. Questions were answered by Dr. Terry and
his committee members. Finally, the doors were opened and the news was spread.
For several days, the report furnished newspaper headlines across the country
and lead stories on television newscasts. Later it was ranked among the top
news stories of 1964.
- During the 40 years that have elapsed since that report, individual citizens,
private organizations, public agencies, and elected officials have pursued
the Advisory Committee's call for "appropriate remedial action." Early on,
the U.S. Congress adopted the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act
of 1965 and the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969. These laws required
a health warning on cigarette packages, banned cigarette advertising in the
broadcasting media, and called for an annual report on the health consequences
- In 1964, the Public Health Service established a small unit called the
National Clearinghouse for Smoking and Health (NCSH). Through the years, the
Clearinghouse and its successor organization, the Office on Smoking and Health,
have been responsible for 27 reports on the health consequences of smoking.
In close cooperation with voluntary health organizations, the Public Health
Service has supported highly successful state and community programs to reduce
tobacco use, has disseminated research findings related to tobacco use, and
has ensured the continued public visibility of antismoking messages.
- Throughout this period, we have witnessed expansion in scientific knowledge
of the health hazards of smoking and the benefits of quitting, growing public
knowledge of the dangers of active smoking and breathing environmental tobacco
smoke, increased availability of programs to prevent young people from starting
to smoke and to help smokers quit, and widespread adoption of policies that
discourage use of tobacco. The benefits of comprehensive approaches to tobacco
use have been well documented.
- Within this evolving social milieu, the population has been giving up
smoking in increasing numbers. Nearly half of all living adults who ever smoked
- The antismoking campaign has been a major public health success. Those
who have participated in this campaign can take pride in the progress that
has been made. This achievement has few parallels in the history of public
health. It was accomplished despite the addictive nature of tobacco and the
powerful economic forces promoting its use.
- However, 46.2 million Americans still smoke, 8.6 million become ill each
year, and 440,000 die each year as a result of tobacco use. Thus, efforts
to implement proven interventions must be continued and expanded.
January 11, 2004 Marks the 40th Anniversary
of the Inaugural Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health
This material was compiled by the Office on Smoking and Health, National
Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. Updated January 2004