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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
In 1912, a study by Dr.
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
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.