Sunday, August 24, 2008

Doctors knew the dangers of cigarettes in 1900?

Today I got quite a shock when someone sent me an article from a website about Lucy Page Gaston. Apparently she waged quite a battle against cigarette smoking, even almost managing to get it prohibited in Illinois in 1907. Wait a minute. 1907? But didn't we see the cover of the American Medical Association Journal (JAMA) in 1938, featuring a group of doctors, all smoking cigarettes and telling folks how healthy smoking was? And what about all the doctors in the 1950's who advocated this or that brand of cigarette in TV ads.

So how exactly DID Ms Gaston almost get smoking banned in 1907. Well, it seems that she was supported by quite a few doctors who had noticed that their patients who smoked had more respiratory disease and heart disease than those who did not smoke!

Another shocker. Gaston wasn't connecting smoking with what one may THINK it might be connected back in the dark ages of the 1900's i.e. immorality, lack of courtesy etc. Gaston was connecting smoking with what it now is KNOWN to be connected with as a DIRECT cause. i.e. heart disease and COPD!

Lung cancer, which had been virtually unknown, was formally recognized as a disease for the first time in 1923 and became widespread in the 1930s.

So if many doctors had joined Gaston's movement, where was the mainstream medical establishment? It seems they ignored the Gaston crowd saying there was "no evidence based research suggesting the risks of smoking". But why when so many doctors had observational evidence, weren't some studies started?

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the profits of the tobacco industry were an obscene 2.5 BILLION bucks at the turn of the 20th century. Can you imagine? When the average working man made $5-10 dollars a week for six 12 hour days of work?

Despite all of Gaston's efforts, annual cigarette sales in the United States had soared from 2.5 billion at the turn of the century to nearly 80 billion when she died. ... Cigarette consumption continued climbing, even after the U.S. Surgeon General issued a landmark report on its dangers in 1964.

The conclusion we must draw is sad. Seems the medical industry could be bought even 100 years ago and excluding the few lives that Lucy Gaston saved through her hard work, many people died (including my own father) partially, due to a medical industry which apparently may not have had the best interests of the people at heart.

Even now, if a slim person who smokes goes to the doctor, they may or may not be told that "perhaps they should consider cutting down their smoking" but if an obese person goes to the doctor, the first thing they typically hear is "LOSE WEIGHT OR DIE" even though to date there is neither observational NOR evidence based research DIRECTLY connecting obesity and disease (only lifestyle in folks of all weights and disease).
We know about the profit motive there. The diet industry in the USA profits a whopping 50 BILLION yearly.

We as consumers should know about the possibility that some things being sold to us (or not sold to us) by our medical providers may or may not be tainted by profit interests. The AMA itself has written a lot about pharmaceutical companies enticing providers with gifts, dinners, trips etc to prescribe certain medications and even some surgeries sold, may be influenced by the profit motive. We do know that most medical providers allow the pharmaceutical companies to educate them about the latest and greatest in medicine because their overburdened schedules often do not allow them to read the books which are not tainted by the need to sell certain procedures and medications.

What we didn't know is that even in the "good old days" the profit motive loomed ominously behind medical care (or lack thereof).

But Lucy Page Gaston, in her blunt manner, lives on, in cyberspace, warning us from the distinct past to always remember even WITH medicine "let the buyer beware".