On 26 June 1954 the main article in the British Medical Journal was on the mortality of doctors in relation to their smoking habits.
It was the tipping point that established smoking as the major cause of lung cancer.
Written by Dr Richard Doll and Professor A Bradford Hill, it was the culmination of years of work by the Medical Research Council. Suspicion hardened into an evidence based conclusion.
It was the start of a struggle. Fifty years passed before smoke-free public places were achieved.
The chief medical officer of the day, Sir John Charles, “lamented the mysterious and inexorable rise in the number of deaths from cancer of the lung” but did nothing. Politicians gave press conferences on the risks of smoking. Enoch Powell believed that something that could be freely sold should be freely advertised. Sir George Godber, Charles’ successor, made the campaign a lifetime objective, and Smoking and Health, the landmark report of the Royal College of Physicians in 1962, owed much to his behind the scenes work.
- For a fuller account of the struggle, see www.nhshistory.net