Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tobacco Smoking History: 20-th Century

At the beginning of the 20-th Century, the negative health effects of tobacco were not initially known; in fact, most early European physicians subscribed to the Native American belief that tobacco can be an effective medicine. There were, however, warning bells ringing on the tobacco smoking health danger, but they were not heard by the general public. For example, the Anti-Cigarette League publishes a pamphlet in 1900, claiming links between cigarette smoking and brain disease.

Nevertheless, smoking gains more and more popularity. When the New York City authority banned women from smoking in public, two weeks later Katie Mulcahey has been arrested for violating the rule, and since then smoking was often seen as a symbol of women's emancipation.

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By the early 20th century, with the growth in cigarette smoking, articles addressing the health effects of smoking began to appear in scientific and medical journals. In 1930, researchers in Cologne, Germany, made a statistical correlation between cancer and smoking. Eight years later, Dr. Raymond Pearl of Johns Hopkins University reported that smokers do not live as long as non-smokers. By 1944, the American Cancer Society began to warn about possible ill effects of smoking, although it admitted that "no definite evidence exists" linking smoking and lung cancer.

A statistical correlation between smoking and cancer had been demonstrated; but no causal relationship had been shown. More importantly, the general public knew little of the growing body of statistics.

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That started to change when in 1950 The Journal of the American Medical Association published Morton Levin’s landmark study that showed a statistical correlation between incidents of lung cancer and heavy smokers. The British Medical Journal followed suit, and the two journals became the first of many studies to be released over the following decades demonstrating statistical reason for concern. Negative health effects have long been suspected to be related to some part of the process of smoking, but the deep inhalation of smoke by cigarette smokers proved to be especially harmful, and such studies became the catalyst for countless additional examinations into the ancient pleasure of tobacco.

The next blow to the Tobacco Industry came in 1952, when Reader's Digest published "Cancer by the Carton," an article detailing the dangers of smoking. The effect of the article was enormous: Similar reports began appearing in other periodicals, and the smoking public began to take notice. The following year, cigarette sales declined for the first time in over two decades.

The tobacco industry responded swiftly. By 1954 the major U.S. tobacco companies had formed the Tobacco Industry Research Council to counter the growing health concerns. With counsel from TIRC, tobacco companies began mass-marketing filtered cigarettes and low-tar formulations that promised a "healthier" smoke. The public responded, and soon sales were booming again.

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The next big blow to the tobacco industry came in the early 1960s, with the formation of the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. Convened in response to political pressures and a growing body of scientific evidence suggesting a causal relationship between smoking and cancer, the committee released a 387-page report in 1964 entitled "Smoking and Health." In unequivocal terms, it concluded that "cigarette smoking is causally related to lung cancer in men." It said that the data for women, "though less extensive, point in the same direction." The report noted that the average smoker is nine to 10 times more likely to get lung cancer than the average non-smoker and cited specific carcinogens in cigarette smoke, including cadmium, DDT, and arsenic.

The tobacco industry has been on the run -- albeit profitably -- ever since. In 1965, Congress passed the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act requiring the surgeon general's warnings on all cigarette packages. In 1971, all broadcast advertising was banned. In 1990, smoking was banned on all interstate buses and all domestic airline flights lasting six hours or less. In 1994, Mississippi filed the first of 22 state lawsuits seeking to recoup millions of dollars from tobacco companies for smokers' Medicaid bills. And in 1995, President Clinton announced FDA plans to regulate tobacco, especially sales and advertising aimed at minors.

Tobacco has been around longer than the United States, and a causal relationship between smoking and cancer has been acknowledged by the U.S. government for over three decades. So why has it taken so long for the tobacco industry to be forced to settle lawsuits over the dangers of cigarettes?

Previous lawsuits went nowhere. Tobacco companies, with deep pockets for legal maneuvering, easily beat back early suits, including the first one, filed in 1954. Their most serious challenge before the 1990s came in 1983, when Rose Cipollone, a smoker dying from lung cancer, filed suit against Liggett Group, charging the company failed to warn her about the dangers of its products. Cipollone, who eventually died, initially won a $400,000 judgment against the company, but that was later overturned. After two arguments before the Supreme Court, Cipollone's family, unable to afford the cost of continued litigation, dropped the suit.

Now, however, tobacco companies face a different legal environment. Over the past three decades, the law has changed considerably.

Today, state laws and legal precedents hold manufacturers more liable for the effects of their products. And the old legal defense of "contributing negligence" -- which prevented lawsuits by people with some measure of responsibility for their own condition -- is no longer viable in most jurisdictions. Instead, a defendant can be held partially liable and forced to pay a corresponding percentage of damages. Finally, the notion of "strict" liability has developed; this means a defendant can be found liable whether or not they are found negligent. If a product such as tobacco causes harm, the company that produced it can be held responsible, even if it wasn't.


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