Charles Lamb said 150 years or so ago: "For they sake, tobacco, I would do anything but die." By the standards of many modern smokers, Mr. Lamb was a piker.
Everyone eventually stops smoking. Mother Nature the most permissive of parents sees to that. Those who smoke heaviest stop earliest.
Pat McGrady, The Savage Cell
To talk about whether cigarette smoking causes lung cancer is like beating a dead horse. Aside from a few cranks, who smoke and don't want to stop, and people who work for tobacco companies, there is no room for doubt that inhaling cigarette smoke is the single most potent cancer causer for man. It accounts for more cancer and other deaths in this country than any agent known to cause disease in man. The case is so convincing that a jury would convict a man of murder on a fraction of the evidence.
At least 90 percent of all cases of lung cancer are due to cigarette smoking, and lung cancer kills more people in the United States than auto accidents. Your chances of dying before age 65 are about twice as great if you smoke cigarettes.
If you quit smoking for one year, it cuts the chances of your getting lung cancer by half. The reason that it only cuts it by half is that many people stop smoking because they have developed the symptoms of lung cancer. Once you have developed incurable lung cancer, it makes very little difference whether you continue smoking or not. The implication of the statistics is that, once the cancer has started, it makes little difference whether a person smokes or not. If the cancer has not started, the probability of it starting is reduced drastically when you stop smoking. It is so drastically reduced, that, if you haven't smoked for ten years, your chances of getting lung cancer is close to what it would have been if you had never smoked. It would be a mistake to assume that you could stop smoking at any time and, by so doing, reduce the chances of getting lung cancer to where it would have been if you had never smoked. If you wait too long, the lung cancer may have already started. Not smoking from then on is not likely to do much good. I have discussed only the effect of cigarette smoking on the occurrence of lung cancer. I have not considered the fact that smoking has a deleterious effect on the heart. A heavy smoker may die of a heart attack as a consequence of his smoking, long before he has a chance to develop lung cancer.
Smoke if you want to. It's your life, not mine. I quit over fifteen years ago, after reading the statistics. Almost all of the scientists and physicians in cancer research have also quit. The ashtrays at the meetings of the American Association for Cancer Research are unused.
Why is lung cancer largely a problem in the male? Don't women also smoke cigarettes? The most probable explanation for the lower lung cancer incidence in women is that, cornpared to men, there are few women who have smoked over a pack of cigarettes per day for over twenty years. It has been predicted that the rate of lung cancer in women will increase drastically in direct proportion to the number of women who become heavy smokers.
The cigarette companies are now directing their advertising at women. The modern woman is now supposed to have a cigarette in her hand; also stained teeth, tobacco breath, tobacco hair, lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. Apparently the tobacco companies would like to see one of the goals of woman's liberation be that of reducing female longevity to that of the male.
Why have I said nothing about pipe and cigar smoking? Since the same carcinogenic substances are in all tobacco products, aren't they all equally dangerous? The substances in pipe and cigar smoke have the same chemicals and are, of course, equally dangerous. People who smoke pipes and cigars have an increased susceptibility to cancer of the lip and mouth as well as other parts of the digestive tract. If, however, we look at the death rates that are due to cancers caused by tobacco, we find that the cancers caused by pipes and cigars are a drop in the bucket compared to lung cancer, which is related to the habit of forcibly inhaling the smoke, which is ordinarily done only by cigarette smokers. As with most carcinogens, the frequency of cancer is a function of the amount of the carcinogen that reaches the site where the cancer will arise. When a cigarette smoker forcibly inhales the smoke, large amounts of carcinogen get to the lung tissue itself; while in the ordinary breathing of smoky air, much of the smoke is trapped in the bronchi (the upper air passages). The smoke particles are trapped in mucus which is later coughed up, swallowed, and excreted. The upper air passages as well as the skin, mouth, and intestines are equipped to provide a dead cell or mucus barrier to noxious substances, while the deeper parts of the lung are not.
While the Surgeon General fights to stop cigarette smoking, the Department of Agriculture and Congress promote it. The government, at the present time, is spending over sixty million dollars a year to support the tobacco industry. This is almost one-third of the 1970 budget for the National Cancer Institute, which includes support of the institute itself and most of the cancer research in the nation. In terms of its relative effectiveness, there is little question that the government spending has contributed considerably more toward causing cancer than it has toward curing or preventing it, since all of the efforts of cancer research have, to date, been unable to counteract the lethal effects of cigarette smoking. At the same time that we are trying to stop cigarette smoking in this country, the government spends $240,000 annually for advertising cigarettes abroad and 22.5 million dollars for tobacco donated under the Food for Peace program. Imagine that, poison donated under the Food for Peace program. Incidentally, the amount of money given to support the tobacco industry by the government (you and I, that is) is greater than the entire budget of the American Cancer Society.
Three years ago, I inquired of the Department of Agriculture concerning this expenditure to encourage smoking, and received a letter containing the following statement:
"During the 1970 calendar year 583 billion cigarettes were manufactured in the United States. The demand for tobacco products will continue even though confronted with health issues. Manufacturers will obviously strive to satisfy this demand and will obtain their tobacco requirements either from the United States producers or from suppliers of imported leaf. U.S. producers naturally feel they have every right to continue to earn their livelihood by producing tobacco to supply this demand."
This attitude was unchanged in 1973. If this attitude could be extended to heroin, who knows what economic advances this country might make. We might become the world's leading merchants of death.
The federal government has a vested interest in tobacco and is not inclined to do anything that will injure or antagonize the tobacco interests. An immense amount of public pressure could change this attitude, but the pressure would have to be very intense.
Taking cigarette commercials out of television and radio was an important step in reducing the effectiveness of cigarette advertising. Unfortunately this elimination of TV and radio advertising was countered by an intensive campaign in newspapers, magazines, billboards, trains, and busses; which was designed to encourage people to smoke cigarettes.
The warning inscription on the cigarette package that should have read (in large print) "Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease" was watered down to read "The Surgeon General has determined that cigarette smoking is hazardous to your health." This says, in essence, "Big Daddy doesn't want you to smoke" --an irresistible challenge to a teenager. Besides, who is The Surgeon General? Does he still exist? What is his name? What does he know about cigarette smoking? The inscription on the package was a major victory for the tobacco companies because it relieved them of any legal liability for the people who are killed by tobacco.
The power of advertising is awesome. An advertising campaign could convince a very substantial number of people to eat arsenic for their health. The only way to counter it is a total ban on any form of tobacco advertising. It takes a substantial amount of my time countering advertisements that say it is good to smoke, alcohol is good for you, and if you are having trouble just take a couple of pills. If someone came here from an alien civilization, he would conclude that our society favors lung cancer, heart disease, alcoholism, and taking drugs.
The job of eradicating tobacco-caused disease apparently will not be done by government. I nominate the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, preferably working in concert. It will take an all-out campaign. This is one time where a WAR AGAINST CIGARETTES might work. There is a large amount of powerful and influential support for such a program. This support has not been mobilized and the campaigns to date have been puny and ineffective. The American Cancer Society, directed conscientiously and singlemindedly toward the eradication of lung cancer could beat the tobacco companies. When Emerson Foote, a skilled advertising executive, joined the ACS I had high hopes, but apparently the consensus in the society was that it is better to "Fight Cancer with a Checkup and a Check." In my mind, there is considerable doubt as to whether these are effective weapons.
Tobacco products kill over 50,000 people each year from lung cancer alone (not to mention death from heart disease) and their pushers are still allowed to advertise in newspapers, on public trains, and next to public highways. If anything is to be done to prevent tobacco-caused disease, the first step should be tbe public refusing to tolerate the open merchandising of death and the hucksters attempt to convince the public that cigarettes are "good." Perhaps it's time to resort to vigilante tactics. The cigarette companies are winning and are using every dirty trick in the books. I suspect that if the true story of cigarette merchandising were ever told it would make Watergate sound like a rerun of Mary Poppins. The only thing that can stop these death merchants is massive public indignation. If every relative of everyone who died of lung cancer in the past ten years (a force of several million) took action, it would not be long before all cigarette advertising was stopped. Imagine every magazine and newspaper faced with a substantial loss of readers if they advertise cigarettes; or every cigarette poster with DEATH or LUNG CANCER or SLOW SUICIDE written on it in large letters.
My plan for the eradication of lung cancer is not as spectacular as an instantaneous chemical cure for cancer; however, it may work. The steps are as follows:
I. Boycott all newspapers and magazines that advertise cigarettes, and write them a letter telling them why they are being boycotted. Maybe the American Cancer Society might wish to provide a form which only has to be signed.
2. Insist that cigarette advertising be removed from all public places (it is offensive to contemporary moral standards) and cigarette vending machines be removed from all public buildings. Elective officials should be inundated with letters and phone calls urging them to do this. There is an old saying that " a politician may not know how to read, but he can count."
3. Sabotage cigarette ads: a felt-tipped marker does a good job. Simply write LUNG CANCER on all cigarette ads.
4. Publicize the image of cigarettes associated with derelicts and bums (the ACS uses this approach). Publicize the fact that super stars don't smoke.
5. Every time someone famous dies of lung cancer, publicize the fact that he was a heavy smoker. Edward R. Murrow was one of the most talented newsmen of our time. He was always seen on TV with a cigarette in his hand. He died at 57 years of age of lung cancer. A public awareness of why this man died before his time might have stopped some people from smoking. I stopped because the facts were frightening.
Communities have suppressed the advertising of nudity and pornography. To the best of my knowledge, nudity and pornography have never killed anyone. Cigarettes kill millions.