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Why were cigarettes considered healthy?


In the early 20th century cigarettes were a popular product. Smoking was perceived as a relaxing agent and therefore as benefiting the body and mind. Mind you, even doctors participated in tobacco campaigns. 

Needless to say that smoking was allowed in restaurants, clubs, and on flights. But then suspicions began to arise among scientists that this was a harmful and dangerous habit.

Bonus fact: In 1953, researchers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York were able to prove in a laboratory experiment that cigarette smoke causes cancer. 

On the morning of December when the national news began to cover the research, the executives of the major tobacco companies in the USA met at the Plaza Hotel in New York to devise a strategy to cope with the new commercial threat. They aimed to question the reliability of the research findings. One way to do this was to use scientific uncertainty. For example, to argue that the conclusions of the study are not unequivocal or that the study is still “at an early stage”.

Another way was to subsidize (completely legitimate) scientific studies to divert public attention from the fact that tobacco causes death. For example, grants have been awarded for studies proving the link between stress and cancer. As cigarettes were considered relaxing it “proved” that they are actually could be perceived as healthy.

In the late 1960s, the federal legislature demanded that tobacco products be labeled as dangerous. Despite this, profits of the tobacco companies skyrocketed, and out of 125 lawsuits filed against them, only nine cases went to court (and the plaintiffs did not win any of them). How is this possible? Tobacco companies and their lawyers have continued to argue that the scientific debate is “still open”, and have stepped up their operational activities to sow doubt in the public eye. They knew it was a lie, but the campaign was so successful that about 25% of Americans are convinced to this day that there is no evidence that tobacco kills.

It was only in 2006 that the tobacco companies were found guilty of conspiring to defraud the public.


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