The tobacco industry gave medical journals big money to run ads like these. Not a problem, though, Phillip Morris claims come from “completely reliable sources”, based on studies by recognized authorities published in leading medical journals. Even kindly offering to sell free packs of cigarettes to doctors so they can test them out themselves. So, see you at the next AMA convention.
What did the American Medical Association have to say for itself? Like most other medical journals, they accepted tobacco ads. They have yet to see an autopsy with a single lesion that had a Marlboro label on it. So, when mainstream medicine is saying that smoking on balance may be beneficial for you, when the American Medical Association is saying that, where could you turn back then if you just wanted the facts? What’s the new data advanced by science? She was “too tired for fun, and then she smoked a Camel.”
Babe Ruth spoke of “proof positive” medical science, that is when he still could speak, before he died of throat cancer.
Now, some of the science did leak out, causing a dip from about 11 cigarettes a day per person down to 10, but those that got scared could always choose “the cigarette that takes the fear out of smoking,” or even better, choose the cigarette that “gives you the greatest health protection.”
Now, if by some miracle, there was a SmokingFacts.org website back then that could deliver the science directly bypassing commercially corruptible institutional filters, you would have become aware of studies like this: an Adventist study in California in 1958 that showed that nonsmokers may have at least 90% less lung cancer. But this wasn’t the first. When famed surgeon Michael DeBakey was asked why his studies published back in the 30’s linking smoking and lung cancer were ignored, he had to remind people about what it was like back then. We were a smoking society; it was in the movies; medical meetings were one “heavy haze of smoke.” It’s like the debates over cigarettes and lung cancer in Congress taking place in smoke filled rooms. Makes me wonder what’s served at the Dietary Guidelines Committee meeting breakfast buffets to this day.
A famous statistician, by the name of Ronald Fisher, railed against what he called propaganda to convince the public that cigarette smoking was dangerous. He made invaluable contributions to the field, but his analysis of lung cancer and smoking was flawed by an unwillingness to examine the entire body of data available. His smokescreen may have been because he was a paid consultant to the tobacco industry, but also because he was himself a smoker. Part of his resistance may have been to the association, may have been because of his own fondness for smoking, which makes me wonder about some of the favorite foods that nutrition researchers may have of this day.
It always strikes me as ironic when vegetarian researchers come forward and list their diet as a potential conflict of interest, whereas not once in the 70,000 articles on meat in the medical literature have I ever seen a researcher disclose their nonvegetarian habits, because it’s normal. Just like smoking was normal.
So, back to our thought experiment. If you’re a smoker in the 50’s in the know, what do you do? With access to the science, you realize that the best available balance of evidence suggests that your smoking habit is not good for you. So, do you change your smoking habits or do you wait? If you wait until your physician tells you, between puffs, to quit, you may have cancer by then. If you wait until the powers that be officially recognize it, like the Surgeon General did in the subsequent decade, you could be dead by then.
It took 25 years for the Surgeon General’s report to come out. It took more than 7,000 studies and the deaths of countless smokers before the first Surgeon General’s report against smoking was finally released in the 1960’s. You’d think maybe after the first 6,000 studies, maybe they could have given people a little heads up or something? It was a powerful industry. One wonders how many people are currently suffering needlessly from dietary diseases. Maybe we should have stopped smoking after the seven hundredth study like this.
With so much money and personal habit at stake, there’s always going to be dissenters. But given the seriousness of these diseases and the sum total of evidence, we shouldn’t wait to put preventive measures in place.
As a smoker in the 50’s, on one hand, you had all of society, the government, and the medical profession itself telling you to smoke. And, on the other hand, the science if you were lucky enough to know about studies like this.
Now, fast forward 55 years. There’s a new Adventist study out of California, warning Americans about the risks of something else they may be putting in their mouth. And it’s not just one study; according to the latest review, the total sum of evidence suggests that mortality from all causes put together, and many of the dreaded diseases – ischemic heart disease, and circulatory and cerebrovascular diseases like stroke – were significantly lower in those eating meat-free diets, in addition to less cancer and diabetes.