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Surgeon General's Report on Smoking Few government reports have had the drama or impact of the one that was delivered on January 11, 1964, in the auditorium of the Old State Department Building in Washington, D.C. On that Saturday morning, a day carefully chosen to make headlines in all the big Sunday newspapers, Surgeon General Luther Terry told the nation that "cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance ... to warrant appropriate remedial action." In other words, it was time to do something about smoking.
Although the basic facts about smoking and health had been known for some time, the federal government kept shying away from the issue. Not until 1962 did President Kennedy decide that the government should study the problem. Kennedy asked Terry, the nation's chief health officer, to select an expert committee that would decide, simply, whether smoking was harmful. Terry and ten people chosen from leading universities worked like prairie dogs, burrowing into stacks of research five stories underground in the basement of the National Library of Medicine at Bethesda, Maryland. After fourteen months of study, the committee issued a 150,000-word report that made the following points:
- Cigarette smoking "contributes substantially to mortality" - that is, smoking can kill you.
- Cigarette smokers have a death rate almost eleven times higher than nonsmokers. The sharpest risk from smoking is lung cancer.
- Quitting smoking is helpful. As a result of Terry's report, the major TV networks decided to reexamine their advertising policies. Within a few years, smoking ads disappeared from the nation's television screens. Later, the government required cigarette makers to carry warning messages on their ads and packages. The number of smokers in the United States began to decline. But it would have been very difficult to change attitudes without the surgeon general's dramatic announcement.
State whether public speakers can help change people's behavior.