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Cigarettes and Cancer


In a moment of almost inspired rationality the Air Force Surgeon General's Office has prohibited the distribution of free cigarettes in Air Force hospitals and clinics, and stopped their inclusion in flight lunches for service personnel. Regretfully--for the companies had been commendably generous--it has asked cigarette manufacturers to put an end to gifts.

The directive was crudely explicit: it is increasingly evident, it said, that smoking is linked to cancer and pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases. There is hardly any doubt that the Surgeon General has jurisdiction to issue such an order; clearly, it could not forbid smoking itself or the buying of cigarettes, but just as clearly, it is free to control the handouts that it feels might disturb the health of the Air Force.

In short, an official agency has read surveys (like the Royal College of Physicians Report of last spring and the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article of last month), listened to the Public Health Service's warnings, and recognised that where action against smoking is legitimate the government should act. In doing so it has hopefully helped to make more dramatic and public the fact that not all the recently accumulated evidence connecting cigarettes and cancer has been wasted, that its influence continues to be possible. The same sort of thinking that earlier in this century emancipated cigarette smokers from the stigma of immorality ought now to show them that their habit is almost certainly dangerous.

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