Despite its stated mission, “To promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health,” the American Medical Association (AMA) has taken many missteps in protecting the health of the American people. One of the most striking examples is the AMA’s long-term relationship with the tobacco industry.
Both the AMA and individual doctors sided with big tobacco for decades after the deleterious effects of smoking were proven. Medical historians have tracked this relationship in great detail, examining internal documents from tobacco companies and their legal counsel and public relations advisers. The overarching theme of big tobacco’s efforts was to keep alive the appearance of a “debate” or “controversy” of the health effects of cigarette smoking.
The first research to make a statistical correlation between cancer and smoking was published in 1930 in Cologne, Germany. In 1938, Dr. Raymond Pearl of Johns Hopkins University reported that smokers do not live as long as non-smokers. The tobacco industry dismissed these early findings as anecdotal — but at the same time recruited doctors to endorse cigarettes.
JAMA kicks off two decades of cigarette advertising
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published its first cigarette advertisement in 1933, stating that it had done so only “after careful consideration of the extent to which cigarettes were used by physicians in practice.” These advertisements continued for 20 years. The same year, Chesterfield began running ads in the New York State Journal of Medicine, with the claim that its cigarettes were “Just as pure as the water you drink… and practically untouched by human hands.”
In medical journals and in the popular media, one of the most infamous cigarette advertising slogans was associated with the Camel brand: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” The campaign began in 1946 and ran for eight years in magazines and on the radio. The ads included this message:
“Family physicians, surgeons, diagnosticians, nose and throat specialists, doctors in every branch of medicine… a total of 113,597 doctors… were asked the question: ‘What cigarette do you smoke?’ And more of them named Camel as their smoke than any other cigarette! Three independent research groups found this to be a fact. You see, doctors too smoke for pleasure. That full Camel flavor is just as appealing to a doctor’s taste as to yours… that marvelous Camel mildness means just as much to his throat as to yours.”
Big Tobacco’s suppression of scientific evidence
At the same time that JAMA ran cigarette ads, it published in 1950 the first major study to causally link smoking to lung cancer. Morton Levin, then director of Cancer Control for the New York State Department of Health, surveyed patients in Buffalo, N.Y., from 1938 to 1950 and found that smokers were twice as likely to develop lung cancer as non-smokers.
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