And today we have another vaccine myth to debunk – since the CDC tobacco smoking science was wrong 50 years ago, how can we trust them about vaccines? Of course, the problem with the myth is multi-faceted, typical of every anti-vaccine trope pushed on the internet.
Let’s start right at the top – is there any evidence whatsoever that the CDC tobacco science was anything but what we know today? Spoiler alert, nope, nothing there.
I have kind of written about this subject recently, but that article focused more on the claim about “doctors endorse smoking” rather than the CDC. This is a more specific article debunking the old CDC tobacco claim – so annoying.
So, let’s get into another ignorant anti-vaccine trope/myth/lie that is used constantly used by the anti-vaxxers to dismiss anything the CDC says. They do this because they lack any evidence supporting their claims, so inventing a conspiracy is so much easier than accepting the truth.
The facts about tobacco smoking
Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m too focused on the lying anti-vaxxers, or maybe I’m spending too much time searching for Bigfoot, but there is a whole section of the internet that denies the links between tobacco smoking and any disease (see Note 1). These people think that tobacco smoking is perfectly safe.
Well, it isn’t safe, and the evidence is overwhelming. According to a report from the Surgeon General of the USA, the risk for smokers vs. nonsmokers are:
- For coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times
- For stroke by 2 to 4 times
- For death from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) by 12 to 13 times
- Of men developing lung cancer (including the trachea, bronchus, and lung) by 25 times
- Of women developing lung cancer by 25.7 times
And it’s not just lung cancer that is linked to tobacco smoking. These cancers are also closely linked to smoking:
- Blood (acute myeloid leukemia)
- Cervix (smoking increases the risk of HPV-related cancer)
- Oropharyngeal (smoking increases the risk of HPV-related cancer)
These aren’t invented links. We have known these links for nearly 140 years:
- By the late 1800s, many British medical journals were publishing articles warning about some of the more negative health effects of smoking.
- An article in The Lancet in 1913 warned – “that tobacco smoking can give rise to constitutional effects which diminish the resisting power of the body to disease” (see citation below since this 1913 article lacks an inline citation).
- By the 1930s, real science observed the increase in lung cancer from smoking.
- In 1950, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article by Martin Levin that established a causal link between smoking and lung cancer.
- By the mid-1950s, numerous epidemiological studies showed a profound increase in lung cancer risk for smokers.
- Richard Peto, one of the greatest epidemiologists of our time, has authored or co-authored over 70 articles just in the past 20 years that has firmly established the link between tobacco smoking and numerous diseases across ethnic, national, and other groups.
- This is settled science – there has been little to no contradictory evidence linking smoking to cancer, pulmonary, cardiovascular, and other diseases.
So what about that CDC tobacco myth?
Let’s discuss the history of what major public health authorities have said about smoking. The Royal College of Physicians (UK) warned against smoking in 1962. The Surgeon General of the USA warned against smoking in 1964. Without a doubt, the CDC (and many other public health experts) have warned about the deleterious health effects of smoking for over 50 years.
Once there was an established link was shown between smoking and cancer (as I described in the previous section), the CDC and most public health authorities across the world opposed smoking by the mid-1950s. This occurred despite the strong opposition from Big Tobacco, whose ethics are only matched by the anti-vaxxers and Big Assault Rifle.
The anti-vaccine crowd uses advertising from Big Tobacco that showed doctors smoking, or worse, endorsing cigarettes. But that wasn’t the “science” of the time. Nor does it indicate the CDC’s viewpoint on cigarette smoking either then or now.
The CDC used peer-reviewed science to support its concerns about cigarette smoking. Physicians were actually the first group to stop smoking (yes, physicians would smoke their cancer sticks in front of patients during the 50s). And some of the evidence that was accumulated by public health authorities was when physicians stopped smoking, the incidence of smoking-related diseases also dropped.
The CDC tobacco message has been consistent over the past 50-60 years – it’s bad for you. But the anti-vaccine zealots, lacking ANY evidence supporting their outlandish claims, invent this crackpot conspiracy as a weird strawman to contradict the CDC’s message on vaccines.
- I do not link to anti-vaccine (or any anti-science) website anymore. Why should any of us send traffic to those purveyors of ignorant nonsense? But if you’re really interested, you all know how to Google. You know, for real research.
- Anonymous. The germicidal properties of tobacco smoke. Lancet 1913;i: 406.
- Charlton A. Medicinal uses of tobacco in history. J R Soc Med. 2004 Jun;97(6):292-6. PubMed PMID: 15173337; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1079499.
- LEVIN ML, GOLDSTEIN H, GERHARDT PR. Cancer and tobacco smoking; a preliminary report. J Am Med Assoc. 1950 May 27;143(4):336-8. PubMed PMID: 15415261.
- Sykes BC, Mullis RA, Hagenmuller C, Melton TW, Sartori M. Genetic analysis of hair samples attributed to yeti, bigfoot and other anomalous primates. Proc Biol Sci. 2014 Aug 22;281(1789):20140161. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0161. PubMed PMID: 24990672; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4100498.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [accessed 2017 Apr 20].
- White C. Research on smoking and lung cancer: a landmark in the history of chronic disease epidemiology. Yale J Biol Med. 1990 Jan-Feb;63(1):29-46. PubMed PMID: 2192501; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2589239.