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The 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was released in a press conference setting – reporters, cameras, tape recorders all going full steam. It was a big news items all over the country. In fact, this was among the top stories of 1964! The information released must have been a pretty big deal. Let’s take a look back and see why…

In 1964, more than 40 percent of adults smoked – and no one knew that it was bad for you. But then Dr. Luther L. Terry, the Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service (and a smoker himself), wanted to find out if smoking was harmful. He had the CDC look at all of the available science on smoking, and found that smoking caused lung and throat cancer as well as a chronic deep cough that won’t go away or get better.

Surgeon General Terry was so worried about the impact of the report, he kept it a big secret. Because the tobacco companies were so big and powerful, the report was released on a Saturday. That way, the companies couldn’t deny the report and there wouldn’t be a drop in cigarette sales (which in those days could have made a big impact on the whole economy). He even waited to tell President Johnson what the report said until an hour before he gave it to reporters.

He gathered reporters at 9:00 a.m. in an auditorium in the State Department. Only official reporters could come and once they arrived, they were locked inside. Once everyone was there, the Surgeon General and his Advisory Committee presented the findings of the report and answered questions.

no smoking

As a result of the findings of the report, the U.S. Congress adopted new laws that forced cigarette companies to include a health warning on all cigarette packages, stopped all cigarette advertising in broadcast media like radio and television, and required a yearly report on consequences of smoking. All of these laws are still alive today. The 1964 report started the wave of awareness and education that continues to this day. Because of these efforts, now just 22 percent of the adult population smokes! That means that only 46 million people now smoke, compared to 70 million people in 1964. The constant efforts of the CDC and others in the 40 years since that first Surgeon General’s Report are the reason that so many people have successfully quit, and why so many more don’t ever start.

The Timeline of Smoking


1964 – First Surgeon General’s Report on the Health Consequences of Smoking, the first document to link smoking to disease.


1965 – Congress requires a Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers of tobacco use be put on every pack of cigarette sold in the United States and makes it illegal to advertise cigarettes on the radio or on TV.


1969 – Congress asks the Surgeon General to issue an annual report on the health consequences of smoking.


1988 – Law prohibitng smoking on airplanes goes into effect.


1993 – Congress makes it illegal to smoke in federal buildings.


1994 – Surgeon General releases the first report on the health consequences of smoking among young people.


1996 – Laws making it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy cigarettes go into effect.


2003 – New York is the first city in the nation to make smoking in restaurants illegal. Additional states and cities across the country have since enacted the same law.


2004 – The Surgeon General’s Report is released announcing that smoking harms nearly every organ in the body.


Newspaper: Studies show Smoking kills

Can you believe there was a time when people didn’t know that smoking was dangerous? Up until Team CDC made the connection between cigarettes and death, everyone thought smoking was okey-dokey. Really.

See how Team CDC changed the way we view smoking — forever.

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