Luther L. Terry

A discussion of Luther L. Terry and his anti-smoking campaign.

This paper evaluates the work of Luther L.Terry who was Surgeon General of the United States during the Kennedy Administration and the first part of the Johnson Administration, from 1961 to 1965. He was prominent in taking the lead in public health issues and ruffling feathers in many American industries. This paper examines his famous report on smoking and its dangers in 1964, now known as Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, which lead to the greater prominence of anti-tobacco forces, the warnings on cigarette packages, the banning of cigarette ads on television and radio and recently court and legislative actions taken against the tobacco industry after decades of resistance. It shows how this was the first official recognition that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer and how attitudes towards smoking were changed forever.
For most of its history, the office of Surgeon General was non-controversial. That would change with Luther L. Terry and his smoking report and recommendations, though interestingly Terry was not the first Surgeon General to address this question. Surgeon General Hugh Cumming in 1929 stated that cigarettes tended to cause nervousness, insomnia, and other ill effects in women and warned that smoking could lower the ‘physical tone’ of the nation (Parascandola 440). Cumming’s challenge to smoking was rather weak. It was directed only at women smokers, for one thing, for it was generally accepted at the time that women are more susceptible than men to certain injuries to the nervous system.