On January 11, 1964, at a crowded press conference in Washington, D.C., United States Surgeon General Luther Terry released Smoking and Health, a report of the medical advisory committee that had been appointed in mid-1962 and charged with reviewing all of the published scientific research on the health effects of smoking. The report’s unequivocal conclusion that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer and other diseases was supposed to end the debate about the dangers of tobacco that had raged for decades, if not centuries.
This exhibition retraces the battles over smoking in the nearly 60 years since the Surgeon General’s report, as seen through the eyes of the nation’s newspaper editorial cartoonists. These trenchant works of art satirize cigarette company executives and lobbyists for believing that the only addictive thing about tobacco is money. The tobacco industry’s opposition to restrictions on smoking in public places, its circumvention of curbs on cigarette advertising, and its never-ending claim that “more research is needed” before acknowledging that smoking could ever cause a cough has provided fodder for editorial cartoonists. But the artists have also poked fun at anti-smoking fanaticism and the hypocrisy of state attorneys-general for seeking cash damages from the tobacco industry while being careful not to harm the goose that lays these golden eggs.
For most of the latter half of the 20th century, medical associations, universities, newspaper and magazine publishers, sports and arts organizations, political parties, and countless elected officials accepted money from the tobacco industry and never bit the hand that fed them. As a result, the hard-won progress that has been made in reducing the prevalence of cigarette smoking to half of what it was in 1964 has come about slowly because of the failure of the very forces that should have been in the vanguard to end the tobacco pandemic.
Alan Blum, MD
The University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society
Curator, “Cartoonists Take Up Smoking”