This is a study of how politicians, officials and the tobacco industry handled the crisis when the link between smoking and lung cancer was established. It is based almost exclusively on official records at the Public Records Office at Kew.
During my last year with Action on Smoking and Health (1995) I had the privilege of being employed to do writing and research for them, and inter alia I chose to study as fully as possible the records on tobacco at Kew. ASH has my complete transcripts and photocopies and an index of files with descriptive notes on their content. Happily the files were then already open up to 1964 and therefore covered the whole period to the change of government that year, which forms a natural terminus to my story. I have, however, recently returned to Kew to consult a few more recent files to tie up loose ends.
I am clear that I have not traced all the relevant files. I found nothing from the Home Office or the Ministry of Education except stray papers on other departments’ files. I have not been to Edinburgh to inspect the files of the Scottish Office Health Department, which was notably more enlightened than its Whitehall cousin. However, the Medical Research Council, Ministry of Health, Board of Trade and Cabinet Office files on which I have principally relied certainly tell the main story.
I am particularly grateful to Professor Sir Richard Doll and Sir George Godber, not only for providing forewords but also for reading my study in draft and providing valuable comments, which I have incorporated. I am in Sir Richard’s debt also for his encouragement to complete the work when other preoccupations pushed it aside for many months.
I should like finally to commend the helpfulness of the staff at Kew, despite frustrations with their indexes which, however compendious, still sometimes confront one with impenetrable portmanteau titles such as ‘Papers: 1960-61′.
My work has a narrow focus but tells a story not previously related. As the tobacco industry’s long history of deceit and cover-up, fully established now by documents from its own files, leads to pressure for more stringent legislation, I hope it may be salutary to have on record the prevarication and procrastination of a past generation of civil servants and politicians to make us all a little sceptical about any suggestion that cases are not yet made or that proposals are unworkable or too radical.
The lessons are perhaps being learned in this country, but ‘big tobacco’ rules rampant throughout much of the third world. Truly radical moves are needed to control an industry that makes immense profits by killing a customer every ten seconds year in, year out – and within 20 or 30 years from now will unashamedly have tripled that rate of killing. Perhaps the most encouraging development of the last few years is the serious discussion of an international treaty to control this cancer feeding on human society.
Notes and Sources
The notes at chapter ends include the sources for the material to which they refer. Comprehensive Public Records Office (PRO) file references are given to enable future investigators to follow up my points. Many papers, of course, appear on more than one file: generally only a single reference is given here.
PRO file prefixes signify the department owning the file as follows:
BT: Board of Trade
CAB: Cabinet Office, including the office of the Lord President of the Council
FD: Medical Research Council
MH: Ministry of Health