A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers

Nasa-giss 1880-2009 global temperatureThis was the title of a full page ad that appeared in many American newspapers one day in 1954. It was paid for the tobacco industry. This was at a time when there was already convincing evidence that smoking caused lung cancer, and public health authorities were waking up to the problem of lung cancer wards full of smokers, and starting to do something about it. The tobacco industry reacted to this by paying for the ad.

The text of the “frank statement” is available, and I think it is worth quoting part: “.. there is no agreement among the authorities regarding what the cause [of lung cancer] is … there is no proof that cigarette smoking is one of the causes.”. I am very struck by the similarity of the tobacco industry’s tactics to those of the climate-change deniers, as others have been.

Both the tobacco industry in the 1950s and afterwards, and more recently those that oppose any attempt to control CO2 emissions, deliberately try to obscure the issue by saying that there is disagreement amongst scientists, that more research is needed, that no cause-and-effect relationship has been proved, etc, etc.

This is far from “frank”. There are strong consensuses amongst the scientists who study cancer and the global climate, that the effects and the links are real. The evidence is strong in both cases, see figure up top for global temperatures over the last century. The evidence for a link between smoking and lung cancer is also very strong. Epidemioligists Doll and Hill followed a large cohort of people (medical doctors in fact) between 1951 and 1954. Of this cohort, 36 died of lung cancer in those 3 years. Every single one was a smoker.

Clearly the obvious take home messages here are that we should do something about global warming, and if we smoke we really really should quit. Also, the tobacco industry has more-or-less lost the argument (in the developed world at least, sadly not so much in parts of the developing world), and has been pushed into retreat partly by being sued for damages. Suing may be trickier with climate change than with smoking. But still we can hope that in the future saying that global is not real will be treated with about as much respect as claiming that there is no link between smoking and lung cancer now gets.