Despite its stated mission, "To promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health," the American Medical Association (AMA) has taken many missteps in protecting the health of the American people. One of the most striking examples is the AMA's long-term relationship with the tobacco industry.
Both the AMA and individual doctors sided with big tobacco for decades after the deleterious effects of smoking were proven. Medical historians have tracked this relationship in great detail, examining internal documents from tobacco companies and their legal counsel and public relations advisers. The overarching theme of big tobacco's efforts was to keep alive the appearance of a "debate" or "controversy" of the health effects of cigarette smoking.
The first research to make a statistical correlation between cancer and smoking was published in 1930 in Cologne, Germany. In 1938, Dr. Raymond Pearl of Johns Hopkins University reported that smokers do not live as long as non-smokers. The tobacco industry dismissed these early findings as anecdotal -- but at the same time recruited doctors to endorse cigarettes.
JAMA kicks off two decades of cigarette advertising
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published its first cigarette advertisement in 1933, stating that it had done so only "after careful consideration of the extent to which cigarettes were used by physicians in practice." These advertisements continued for 20 years. The same year, Chesterfield began running ads in the New York State Journal of Medicine, with the claim that its cigarettes were "Just as pure as the water you drink... and practically untouched by human hands."
In medical journals and in the popular media, one of the most infamous cigarette advertising slogans was associated with the Camel brand: "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette." The campaign began in 1946 and ran for eight years in magazines and on the radio. The ads included this message:
"Family physicians, surgeons, diagnosticians, nose and throat specialists, doctors in every branch of medicine... a total of 113,597 doctors... were asked the question: 'What cigarette do you smoke?' And more of them named Camel as their smoke than any other cigarette! Three independent research groups found this to be a fact. You see, doctors too smoke for pleasure. That full Camel flavor is just as appealing to a doctor's taste as to yours... that marvelous Camel mildness means just as much to his throat as to yours."
Big Tobacco's suppression of scientific evidence
At the same time that JAMA ran cigarette ads, it published in 1950 the first major study to causally link smoking to lung cancer. Morton Levin, then director of Cancer Control for the New York State Department of Health, surveyed patients in Buffalo, N.Y., from 1938 to 1950 and found that smokers were twice as likely to develop lung cancer as non-smokers.
Cigarette producers may have hoped that the public would remain unaware of studies published in medical journals. However, the dangers of smoking became widely known in 1952 when Reader's Digest published "Cancer by the Carton," detailing the dangers of cigarettes. Within a year cigarette sales fell for the first time in more than two decades.
The tobacco industry responded swiftly, engaging the medical community in its efforts. The Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC) was formed by U.S. tobacco companies in 1954. By sponsoring "independent" scientific research, the TIRC attempted to keep alive a debate about whether or not cigarettes were harmful.
The industry announced the formation of the TIRC in an advertisement that appeared in The New York Times and 447 other newspapers reaching more than 43 million Americans. The advertisement, titled "A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers," read:
"RECENT REPORTS on experiments with mice have given wide publicity to a theory that cigarette smoking is in some way linked with lung cancer in human beings.
Although conducted by doctors of professional standing, these experiments are not regarded as conclusive in the field of cancer research. However, we do not believe that any serious medical research, even though its results are inconclusive should be disregarded or lightly dismissed.
At the same time, we feel it is in the public interest to call attention to the fact that eminent doctors and research scientists have publicly questioned the claimed significance of these experiments.
Distinguished authorities point out:
1. That medical research of recent years indicates many possible causes of lung cancer. 2. That there is no agreement among the authorities regarding what the cause is. 3. That there is no proof that cigarette smoking is one of the causes. 4. That statistics purporting to link cigarette smoking with the disease could apply with equal force to any one of many other aspects of modern life. Indeed the validity of the statistics themselves is questioned by numerous scientists.
We accept an interest in people's heath as a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business.
We believe the products we make are not injurious to health.
We always have and always will cooperate closely with those whose task it is to safeguard the public health. For more than 300 years tobacco has given solace, relaxation, and enjoyment to mankind. At one time or another during those years critics have held it responsible for practically every disease of the human body. One by one these charges have been abandoned for lack of evidence.
Regardless of the record of the past, the fact that cigarette smoking today should even be suspected as a cause of a serious disease is a matter of deep concern to us.
Many people have asked us what we are doing to meet the public's concern aroused by the recent reports. Here is the answer:
1. We are pledging aid and assistance to the research effort into all phases of tobacco use and health. This joint financial aid will of course be in addition to what is already being contributed by individual companies.
2. For this purpose we are establishing a joint industry group consisting initially of the undersigned. This group will be known as TOBACCO INDUSTRY RESEARCH COMMITTEE.
3. In charge of the research activities of the Committee will be a scientist of unimpeachable integrity and national repute. In addition there will be an Advisory Board of scientists disinterested in the cigarette industry. A group of distinguished men from medicine, science, and education will be invited to serve on this Board. These scientists will advise the Committee on its research activities.
This statement is being issued because we believe the people are entitled to know where we stand on this matter and what we intend to do about it."
Doctors' involvement in the tobacco deception
The statement -- signed by presidents of major tobacco interests including Phillip Morris, Brown & Williamson, and R.J. Reynolds -- was designed to launch the "controversy" which I mentioned earlier. In fact, there was no controversy. The research results were clear: smoking had been proven harmful -- not just to mice, but to people who had for years been advised that smoking offered health benefits.
The TIRC promised to convene "a group of distinguished men from medicine, science, and education" and it did so. Early members of the TIRC's Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) included: McKeen Cattell, PhD, MD, professor of pharmacology from Cornell University Medical College; Julius H. Comroe, Jr., MD, director of the University of California Medical Center's cardiovascular research institute and chairman of University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Medicine; and Edwin B. Wilson, PhD, LLD, professor of vital statistics, Harvard University.
According to the New York State Archives, the TIRC's functions "included both the funding of research and carrying out public relations activities relating to tobacco and health." Faced with mounting evidence that smoking was harmful, "it became evident that this was not a short-term endeavor, and that it was difficult to manage both scientific research and public relations in one organization. As a result the Tobacco Institute was formed to assume the public relations functions, and the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR) was formed and incorporated to provide funding for scientific research."
Whether or not individual doctors supported smoking, lending their names to the TIRC gave it credibility. The Center for Media and Democracy has reported that many of the scientists who were members of the Scientific Advisory Board privately "disagreed with the tobacco industry's party line." According to the center's website: "In 1987, Dr. Kenneth Warner polled the SAB's 13 current members, asking, 'Do you believe that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer?' Seven of the SAB members refused to answer the question, even after Warner promised individual anonymity. The other six all answered in the affirmative. 'I don't think there's a guy on the [Board] who doesn't believe that cigarette smoking contributes to an increased risk of lung cancer,' one said, adding that the SAB's members were 'terrified' to say so publicly out of fear of involvement in tobacco product liability lawsuits."
If it was fear that kept doctors on board with the TIRC and its renamed version, CTR, it did not stop them from handing out research grants. The Center for Media and Democracy describes some of the early grants: "Research projects attempted to show that both lung cancer and smoking were caused by some other 'third factor,' such as a person's psychological makeup, religion, war experiences or genetic susceptibility. One research project asked whether the handwriting of lung cancer patients can reveal characteristics associated with lung cancer. Another looked for enzyme markers predicting susceptibility to lung cancer."
After three decades, the AMA finally admits smoking is harmful
After the 1964 Surgeon General's landmark report on the dangers of cigarettes, the CTR stepped up its work, providing materials to defend the tobacco industry against litigation. The same year -- three decades after medical research demonstrated the dangers of cigarettes -- the American Medical Association finally issued statement on smoking, calling it "a serious health hazard." It was not until 1998 that the CTR was shut down -- and only after the tobacco industry lost a major court case brought forward by states across the country.
Allan M. Brandt, a medical historian at Harvard, writes about the role that medical research played on both sides of the smoking debate in his new book, The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America. After reviewing research, court transcripts and previously restricted memoranda from tobacco companies, Brandt summed up the misleading nature of "expert" medical testimony in tobacco litigation: "I was appalled by what the tobacco expert witnesses had written. By asking narrow questions and responding to them with narrow research, they provided precisely the cover the industry sought."
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Brandt acknowledged that his research is a combination of scholarship and health advocacy -- pointing out the means by which the American public was intentionally misled for most of the twentieth century. As Brandt stated, "The stakes are high, and there is much work to be done."
The medical conspiracy continues today
It is my belief that just as private industry and the medical community conspired to deceive the public on tobacco (and thereby profit from the public's ignorance of tobacco's extreme health hazard), the same story is repeating itself today in the cancer industry, the sunscreen industry, and the pharmaceutical industry. In each case, so-called "authoritative" doctors insist that whatever they're pushing is safe for human consumption, and that the public should buy their products without any concern about safety.
And yet these industries are much like the tobacco industry in the fact that they primarily seek profits, not health. Medicine today is in the business of making money, and that goal is achieved by selling chemical products to consumers regardless of their safety or efficacy. Big Medicine is the modern version of Big Tobacco, and over the last several decades, the American Medical Association has proudly supported both cigarettes and pharmaceuticals. In my opinion, the AMA is indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of Americans -- not just from pushing cigarettes but also for continuing to push dangerous pharmaceuticals while discrediting nearly everything in natural medicine or alternative medicine. The AMA is a truly evil organization, in my opinion, that I believe has directly and knowingly contributed to the suffering and death of Americans for more than 75 years. Read my story, What the AMA hopes you never learn about its true history to learn more. In a just society, AMA leaders would be arrested and tried for their crimes against humanity, just as top FDA officials should be.
The cancer industry, similarly, is extremely dangerous to the health and safety of Americans thanks to its outright refusal to support anti-cancer nutrition (vitamin D, broccoli sprouts, spirulina, rainforest herbs, etc.) as well as its refusal to fight for the removal of toxic chemicals from consumer products and the workplace.
In studying the history of product commercialization by medical groups, what we consistently find is a series of cons perpetrated against consumers, masterminded by profit-seeing medical groups that conspire with corporations to maximize profits at the expense of public health. Nothing has changed today, either. The AMA isn't pushing cigarettes anymore, but it's still pushing deadly pharmaceuticals that will one day be regarded as just as senseless as smoking. Let's face it: pharmaceutical medicine is hopelessly outdated, ineffective and dangerous. Nobody intelligent today actually believes that pharmaceuticals help people heal. In fact, the more drugs people take, the worse their health becomes! Modern medicine is actually harmful to patients!
Medical science is slow to change, and slow to give up its closely-guarded (false) beliefs. In time, however, virtually everything now supported by the medical industry (the FDA, AMA, ACS, etc.) will be regarded as insanely harmful to human health. One day, future scientists will look back on medicine today and wonder just how such an industry of evil and greed could have gained so much power and authority. The answer is found in "groupthink" and the strange knack for humans to defer to anyone in an apparent position of authority, regardless of whether such authority is warranted.
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