Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service is the United States Federal government's chief health officer and public health advocate. The U.S. Surgeon General's office disseminates information on how to reduce illness and injury has found since 1964 that tobacco use causes disease in humans.


Past Surgeons General of the United States Public Health Service include

On January 11, 1964 Surgeon General Luther Terry issued the first federal government report to formally declare that smoking causes disease.

The 1964 Surgeon General's report concluded, however, that "The habitual use of tobacco is related primarily to psychological and social drives, reinforced and perpetuated by the pharmacological actions of nicotine on the central nervous system. Nicotine-free tobacco or other plant materials do not satisfy the needs of those who acquire the tobacco habit. . . . The Tobacco habit should be characterized as an habituation rather than an addiction"(Tobacco Control 1992).

Members of the Surgeon General's advisory committee on smoking and health from 1961 to 1964 were:

Tobacco industry attacks on the office of the Surgeon General

In a 1982 R.J. Reynolds memo, RJR's' Vice President of Government Relations, W. Eugene Ainsworth, describes how the company could deal with the damage being done to the cigarette industry by the annual U.S. Surgeon General's reports on the health consequences of smoking, suggesting that it was possible to eliminate the reports entirely by sneaking an amendment to do just that into an omnibus legislative bill.[1]

An undated memo written by Horace R. Kornegay of the Tobacco Institute shows that the industry thought it was a valuable idea. Kornegay wrote up the rationale for eliminating the requirement that the U.S. Surgeon General issue annual reports on the health consequences of smoking:

There are no public benefits from annual reports that essentially duplicate previous reports. To the contrary, repetitive statements based on previously reported information tend to mislead the public about the state of knowledge concerning smoking and health issues... Antismoking advocates have come increasingly in recent years to seize on the annual report of the Surgeon General for propaganda purposes, which obscures the purpose of the reports --which is to provide in a scientifically accurate and dispassionate manner information with regard to smoking and health. As a result, public confidence in the reliability of government health information programs has been undermined, the Office of the Surgeon General has been diverted from its mission of health promotion and disease prevention, and tax revenues have been wasted.[2]

Tobacco industry attacks on the Office of the Surgeon General continued in later years as well. A 2-page report describes a 1997 legislative attempt by industry political ally Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX, defeated in the Nov. 7, 2006 election) to de-fund the Surgeon General's Office completely: [3] A transcript from a February 11, 1997 meeting of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Congressional Subcommittee on Appropriations shows Rep. Bonilla pressing for the complete termination of the Office of the Surgeon General. Bonilla told the head of DHHS that "The Office of the Surgeon General is unnecessary. Moneys used to fund it could otherwise be used for CDC health treatment efforts ... Why not eliminate it, like the private sector would?" [4]

Tobacco industry efforts to counteract reports of the Surgeon General

A 1981 internal Philip Morris (PM) memo marked "PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL" discusses how PM and the tobacco industry should react to the publication of the 1981 U.S. Surgeon General's report entitled The Health Consequences of Smoking: The Changing Cigarette. The memo was written by Robert B. Seligman, Vice President of Research and Development for PM at the time, and was sent to PM's president, another Vice President, Assistant General Counsel and several high-level PM scientists. In the memo, Seligman states the need for the tobacco industry to begin supporting and publishing studies that would "reverse the ground swell of public opinion which has emerged as a result of antismoking activity."

Seligman says,

... It is our opinion that Philip Morris (or the tobacco industry) take a more aggressive posture to counterattack the antismoking movement. We're suggesting funding studies (primarily outside the United States) with the intent to publish data which refutes specific assertions by the antismoking forces...."

Seligman also suggests PM study the action of nicotine in the human body and use the findings to enhance their products. As Seligman put it, PM should "Explore and define the action of nicotine in the human, and if possible, optimize products utilizing this knowledge..." Exactly why, in the midst of a memo primarily about battling smoking and health issues, Seligman brought up the need to optimize the effects of nicotine in the human body is not explained.

Seligman further suggested that studies should be done to counter the existing studies on smoking and health and that they should be "controlled and sponsored by Philip Morris ... to deal with domestic and international problems affecting the Corporation and its products." He also suggests "many of the studies would be directed to overseas laboratories."

Seligman states that the industry's "Response must be global in concept because adverse reports from any country immediately have worldwide impact..."

Several times in the memo Selgiman acknowledges that "despite the fact that there are potential legal risks in directly supporting and publishing [such] studies" nevertheless the industry "must enter this arena." He refers to the industry's current situation as "trying to do battle without armament."[5]

In Operation Downunder, a 1987 Philip Morris internal operation to deal with the growing issue of secondhand smoke, two ideas on a brainstorming list included undermining the Surgeon General (at the time C. Everett Koop), and helping select the next Surgeon General.

Sourcewatch resources

External resources


  1. W.E. Ainsworth, Jr., R.J. Reynolds Surgeon General's Report Letter. February 26, 1982. Bates No. 506062870
  2. Tobacco Institute Summary of Review Request Undated report. Bates No. TIMN0088765
  3. Author unknown 1997 undated report Found in the area of John Hoel of PM. 2 pp. Philip Morris. Bates No.078370721/0722
  4. Oldaker 1998 Health and Human Services Budget Hearing House Appropriations. Subcommittee on Labor/HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala February 11,1997 Report. 2 pp. February 11, 1997. Bates No. 2077170914/0915
  5. Robert B. Seligman, Philip Morris Surgeon General's Keport - Response (sic) Memorandum/outline. February 12, 1981. 6 pp. Bates No. 1003658637/8642

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