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Link between smoking and cancer

During the late 1940s, an epidemiological study was conducted on the correlation between smoking and lung cancer. In 1950, the results were published in the British Medical Journal, which indicated a definite link and confirmed a similar study in the US. In 1951, following campaigning by the Medical Director of the Central Medical Hospital, Dr Horace Joules, the Standing Advisory Committee on Cancer & Radiotherapy (SACCR) informed the Minister of Health of a statistical link between smoking and cancer. By the end of 1953, the SACCR was arguing there was a real association, and recommended that the young should be warned against the dangers of smoking.

The matter first came before Cabinet in 1954. The Minister of Health, Iain MacLeod, who was convinced of an association between smoking and lung cancer, recommended the release of a public statement on the matter. Cabinet decided to allow a £250,000 grant from the tobacco industry to the Medical Research Council (MRC) to go through. Iain MacLeod and the MRC officials attended a press conference on 12 February, warning of the dangers of 'excessive' smoking.

Public awareness

There was much public interest in the Minister's statement, and further evidence against smoking was accumulated over the following two years. The Standing Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC) pressed for a 'propaganda' campaign to alert the public to the danger of smoking. The government, however, was mindful that tobacco taxes contributed over £600 million per annum to revenue in the early 1950s, more than expenditure on the health service. Following the advice of SMAC, Cabinet appointed a Committee of Ministers to consider the question. Cabinet decided to put the relevant details before the public, without making any further commitment.

Following a further report, the Medical Research Council (MRC), who had been until now sceptical, accepted a relationship of cause and effect between smoking and cancer. Cabinet ordered the publication of the MRC report and a press release, but refused to admit any 'duty' to go further than making the information available. The press release was amended to shift the emphasis to heavy smoking.

Over the next five years, medical officials drew attention to increased spending by the tobacco industry on advertising that targeted the young. The government remained unwilling to initiate a public health campaign, but a report by the Royal College of Physicians, published in 1962, increased the pressure.

Campaign of Government publicity

Cabinet now considered the 'new departure' of a more active policy, including a campaign to publicise the dangers of smoking and restrictions on tobacco advertising and tax increases. It was noted, however, that tobacco taxes contributed over £800 milllion per annum to the Exchequer and Cabinet. Eventually, Cabinet agreed to a 'modest campaign of Government publicity'. In 1965, the Labour Cabinet decided to prohibit cigarette advertising on television and to expand the existing public health campaign.