L. Edgar Prina

L. Edgar Prina (1918-2013), a foreign affairs and military intelligence reporter at The Washington Evening Star from 1950 to 1966  where he was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, was assigned to cover a press conference by President John F. Kennedy on May 23, 1962. Having read about the recently published report on smoking and health by the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom that summarized the devastating toll taken by cigarettes, Prina posed a question to President Kennedy that would lead to the formation of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General on smoking and health…and the publication on January 11, 1964 of the committee’s landmark report:

“Mr. President, there is another health problem that seems to be causing growing concern here and abroad, and I think this has largely been provoked by a series of independent scientific investigations which have concluded that cigarette smoking and certain types of cancer and heart disease have a causal connection. I have two questions: Do you and your health advisers agree or disagree with these findings, and secondly, what, if anything should and can the Federal Government do in the circumstances?”

President Kennedy’s reply:

“The—that matter is sensitive enough and the stock market is in sufficient difficulty without my giving you and answer which is not based on complete information, which I don’t have, and therefore perhaps we could—I’d be glad to respond to that question in more detail next week.”

A 1940 graduate of Syracuse University’s journalism school, Prina served in the U.S. Navy throughout throughout World War II and was recalled to active duty in the Korean War. After his long tenure at The Star, he worked for the Copley News Service from 1966 to 1987, where he became chief of the Washington bureau. On May 14, 2013 he died from pneumonia at age 95.

On June 12, 2012, Alan Blum, MD. interviewed Mr. Prina at his apartment in Washington, DC, during which Prina recalled his surprise that presidential press secretary Pierre Salinger had not prepared President Kennedy for a question about the increasing number of published reports that found cigarette smoking was a major cause of lung cancer and other diseases.

Alan Blum, MD  Interviews L. Edgar Prina (47:31)

Washington, DC
June 12, 2012