Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Luther Terry anniversary

by Rob - January 11th, 2014.
Filed under: Milestones.

Fifty years ago today, United States Surgeon General Luther Terry released the landmark report Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States, demonstrating the causal link between smoking and lung cancer.

That’s right, smokers: you’ve had a half-century of warnings; it really is high time you quit.

It’s almost impossible to imagine a modern-day political appointee taking on big business in the way Dr. Terry did — he truly epitomized government for the people (and not the modern “corporations are people, too” approach).

My 2012 novel Triggers is set at a fictional Washington, D.C., health-care center named Luther Terry Memorial Hospital. A germane excerpt, from the point of view of Seth Jerrison, the president of the United States, being treated there:

He knew he was in good hands here — and not just because the hospital was named for the man who had saved more American lives than anyone else in history, even though a recent survey had shown that less than one percent of Americans knew who he was. In fact, Jerrison had to admit, he himself hadn’t — the only holder of the same office that he could name prior to becoming president was the one immortalized by the B-Sharps, Homer Simpson’s barbershop quartet: “For all the latest medical poop, call Surgeon General C. Everett Koop — koop koop a koop.”

But Luther Terry was responsible for more people knowing of the office of Surgeon General than anyone else, for he was the one who in 1964 had released the report linking smoking to cancer, and in 1965 had instigated the “Surgeon General’s Warning” on cigarette packs.

Seth had recently reviewed proposed new warnings, designed to prevent teenagers who see themselves as invincible from picking up the habit. “Smokers become slaves to Big Tobacco.” “The maker of this product intends to addict you to it.” “Smokers are pawns of heartless corporations.” And his favorite, short and sweet: “You are being used.”

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