Thank this man for smoke-free hospitals, restaurants, and airplanes | Michigan Radio

Thank this man for smoke-free hospitals, restaurants, and airplanes

Jan 11, 2018


The TV series "Mad Men" was set in the 1960s, and its creators went to great pains to make it look as authentic to the era as possible.

That means just about every character smoked. Everywhere. All the time.

It's a good reminder of how much attitudes have changed towards cigarettes and smoking. That's largely due to something that happened on this day in 1964, when the U.S. Surgeon General took on the big tobacco lobby and issued his famous report on smoking.

Dr. Howard Markel, University of Michigan medical historian and PBS contributor, joined Stateside today to revisit the story.


Listen above for the full conversation, or read highlights below.


On how tobacco companies reacted to negative studies

"The tobacco companies pushed back by discrediting the study, marketing to groups who had not previously been big smokers like women... as well as minority groups with big billboards in their neighborhoods. They gave out free cigarettes. They had their own research that was done. They battled it to a fare-thee-well, and it wasn't really until the 80s, the 1980s, when another famous surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, worked very hard with the medical profession and the healthcare professions to ban cigarettes from, say, a hospital, or an airplane."

On the 1950s perspective

"Smoking was considered almost romantic and glamorous. It was not really considered a health hazard. Frequently, doctors were enlisted in the sales of cigarettes, remember? 'Four out of five doctors prefer Camels.' Now, that was actually a sham. It was based on doctors leaving a medical meeting and members of the Phillip Morris sales team were handing out free samples of Camel cigarettes, and four out of five doctors took them, hence they preferred them.”


On Surgeon General Luther Terry's legacy



"He was incredibly influential. We don't really remember his name -- in fact we don't really remember the names of many surgeon generals, if not all of them, but I would put Dr. Terry as easily the most influential. That warning alone, which is probably the most famous warning in all public health, led to the better health of Americans. And, don't forget: a half a million Americans still die every year because of complications from cigarette smoking. That's one out of five deaths, so we still have a ways to go."

(Subscribe to the Stateside podcast on iTunesGoogle Play, or with this RSS link)