This website carries a complete copy of the book Denial & Delay by David Pollock, published in 1999 by Action on Smoking and Health (ISBN 1 872428 44 4). Hard copies are available on request for the cost of postage and packing – see here. Use the sidebar menu to navigate.
The book has the subtitle The Political History of Smoking and Health, 1951-1964: Scientists, Government and Industry as seen in the papers at the Public Records Office.
Forty years before ‘mad cow disease’ a similar crisis was affecting Whitehall and Westminster. The tobacco industry – fundamental to the economy (it provided 14% of tax revenue) and hitherto of unimpeachable respectability – was suspected of killing its customers. But it took half a generation to move from scientific proof to effective government action as a cohort of purblind politicians and officials made place for their less blinkered successors.
Expert statements from advisory groups and the Medical Research Council were watered down and ignored. Iain Macleod chain-smoked while he made the first Ministry of Health announcement on the subject. The Treasury lost no opportunity to protect the source of so much revenue.
Meantime the industry bought favour – and confusion – with a gift of £250,000 to fund research and lobbied assiduously with their disingenuous reinterpretation of the statistics. The way top tobacco company managers casually visited Permanent Secretaries to press their points bears careful reading by anyone concerned today about government departments that fail to keep a critical distance from powerful industries pressing their commercial interests.
“This book records,” says Sir George Godber in his Foreword, “how proven facts can be obscured by commercial interests.” The first Chief Medical Officer to take the problem seriously, he says that as a result “the message reaching much of the public remains unclear.”
” . . . as absorbing to read as a good detective novel. It is, however, much more. Its publication should help avoid any similar delay in the future when medical research has revealed how tens – or, as we now know, hundreds – of thousands of premature deaths can be avoided in this country alone every year” – from the Foreword by Sir Richard Doll.
David Pollock was Director of Action on Smoking and Health from 1991 to 1994 and remains a member of the ASH Advisory Council.