Other sections found within "Dangers of Tobacco":
Addiction // Cancer // Lung and Heart Disease // Fatigue and Headache
Second-hand Smoke // Other Dangers >> Coffin Nails Homepage & Introduction

Today, it has been established scientifically that using tobacco causes cancer; a fact now admitted even by some tobacco company officials.  Although conclusive scientific data was not available until the mid-twentieth century, the first indication of the connection dates back two centuries earlier.  In 1761, Dr. John Hill, a London physician, published a study linking the excessive use of snuff (powered tobacco inhaled through the nostril) with cancer of the nose.  He reported that immoderate snuff users developed cancerous lesions, which could be fatal.  In 1795, Dr. Samuel Thomas von Soemmering of Maine noted a correlation between lip cancer and pipe smoking.

In the nineteenth century, an anti-tobacco movement developed in the United States, often in tandem with, but smaller than, the alcohol temperance movement.  In 1836, Samuel Green wrote in the New England Almanack and Farmer’s Friend, “tens of thousands die of diseases of the lungs generally brought on by tobacco smoking… How is it possible to be otherwise?  Tobacco is a poison.”  In 1849, Dr. Joel Shew published Tobacco:  Its History and Effects on the Body and Mind, in which he blamed the noxious weed for causing a wide array of diseases from hemorrhoids to insanity.  Although most of the associations proved unwarranted, he was correct in identifying cancer among them.  The Reverend George Trask, editor of the Anti-Tobacco Journal, contended that cancer and other tobacco-related illnesses killed 20,000 Americans annually.  Across the Atlantic, Dr. John Lezars, professor of surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons and Senior Operating Surgeon at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, Scotland, summarized his medical observations in The Use and Abuse of Tobacco (1859), in which he contended that smoking tobacco led to cancer of the tongue and lip.  Most people, however, did not know about, or did not believe, such health warnings.

Three news briefs in Harper’s Weekly address the possible connection between tobacco use and cancer.  The first, “The Effects of Smoking”, from the April 1, 1865 issue, discussed the ill effects of “immoderate” pipe smoking on a person’s bodily organs and functions.  While providing a detailed warning of various hazards from excessive use, the author denied harm from “moderate” smoking and dismisses as “utterly groundless” the proposition that tobacco use causes cancer.  Twenty years later, Ulysses S. Grant, the former president (1869-1877) and Union general, was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue, from which he died on July 23, 1885.  Grant had been a heavy smoker, almost always seen or pictured with a cigar in his mouth, as in a cartoon from the May 11, 1872 issue of the newspaper.  Yet, the March 14, 1885 issue of the journal reported that Grant’s physicians rejected the suggestion that his cancer was caused by cigar smoking.  However, five years later, the journal revealed that the late Congressman William “Pig Iron” Kelley of Pennsylvania (1814-1890) had given up smoking and chewing tobacco late in his life after developing a tumor and observing the fatal plight of Grant.  By the early twentieth century, there was an increasing awareness that tobacco use—which at the time was primarily by cigar, pipe, and chewing—was causing cancer of the mouth.

In 1912, a study by Dr. Isaac Adler, Primary Malignant Growths of the Lungs and Bronchi: A Pathological and Clinical Study, scientifically linked smoking with lung cancer for the first time.  There were, though, few cases of lung cancer in the United States at that time.  It was the growing popularity of the cigarette in the early twentieth century that led to a dramatic increase in lung cancer deaths by the late 1930s.  From 1938-1948, cases of lung cancer multiplied fivefold compared to other types of the disease.  From the late 1930s onward, numerous medical studies connected cigarette smoking and lung cancer, including three major reports in 1950, two in the Journal of the American Medical Association and one in the British Medical Journal.

In 1957, the federal government took a position for the first time when U. S. Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney released a report stating that “cigarette smoking was a causative factor in the etiology of lung cancer.”  In 1962, at the urging of major medical associations, the Kennedy administration set up an independent commission of scientists to study smoking and cancer.  In January 1964, the commission reported to the Surgeon General Luther L. Terry that cigarette smoking was a leading cause of lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema; was a likely cause of heart disease; and, therefore, was a health hazard of national importance.  In 1982, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop announced that second-hand smoke might also cause lung cancer.  Four years later, he released the finding that chewing tobacco was addictive and a cause of cancer.

Harper's Weekly References
1)  April 1, 1865, p. 199, c. 2-3
“Effects of Smoking,” the denial that smoking causes cancer indicates that some were arguing that it did

2)  May 11, 1872, May 11, 1872
cartoon, “All Smoke,” U.S. Grant smoking cigar

3)  March 14, 1885, p. 163, c. 3
“Personal” column, denial by Grant’s physicians that his cancer of the tongue was caused by smoking, indicating (again) that some were making the connection

4)  January 25, 1890, p. 63, c. 3
“Personal” column, the late Congressman William Kelley had given up tobacco after getting tumor on his cheek and after Grant’s fatal illness

Sources Consulted
Clearing the Smoke:  Accessing the Science Base for Tobacco Harm Reduction(2001), Appendix C, “Timeline,” Institute of Medicine, National Academies Press,

Grannis, Frederic W., Jr., M.D., “History of Cigarette Smoking and Lung Cancer,”

Lender, Mark Edward, “A New Prohibition?  An Essay on Drinking and Smoking In America,” Brown and Williamson Tobacco,

Moyer, David, M.D., “The Tobacco Reference Guide,”

“The 1964 Report on Smoking and Health,” Reports of the Surgeon General, National Library of Medicine, or

Trask, George, Tobacco for American Lads,”


Other sections found within "Dangers of Tobacco":
Addiction // Cancer // Lung and Heart Disease // Fatigue and Headache
Second-hand Smoke // Other Dangers >> Coffin Nails Homepage & Introduction





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