Terry warned us 50 years ago

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In recent months, we have been reminded.

It’s been 50 years since George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door.

Fifty years since Martin Luther King, speaking in Washington, told us about his dream.

Fifty years since President Kennedy was assassinated.

Fifty years since LBJ declared war on poverty.

And, it’s been 50 years since U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry advised Americans that smoking is a very bad habit.

Terry was a native of Red Level, and was educated in Alabama schools. As a result of the work of his Advisory Committee on Smoking, the surgeon general warned Americans what researchers had been preaching for a decade: Smoking kills.

Terry – who is alleged to have quit smoking himself after the committee began its work – was among the third of the country’s doctors who smoked. Matter of fact, most of his committee members smoked during meetings. At the time, they were among the 42 percent of the U.S. adults who did.

Specifically, the committee concluded that cigarettes and concluded that they definitely caused lung and laryngeal cancer in men, probably caused lung cancer in women and were the No. 1 cause of chronic bronchitis. It also linked cigarettes to emphysema, heart disease and underweight births, and concluded that smokers had a 70 percent higher age-corrected death rate than non-smokers.

In the 50 years since, warning labels have been placed on tobacco products, the ads and commercials have vanished, taxes have been hiked on tobacco products and there are fewer public places where those products can be used.

Researchers estimate those moves have saved 8 million lives. Still, 18 percent of U.S. adults continue to smoke, despite concrete evidence that smoking is linked to the top four causes of death in the U.S. — heart disease, cancer, lung disease and strokes — and claims 443,000 lives annually.

Addictions are difficult to overcome, and some simply like smoking and stubbornly refuse to give it up, despite the overwhelming evidence of the risks. But Evidence continues to bear out that Terry and his committee were right: Smoking kills.