Dr. Jesse Steinfeld, the former U.S. surgeon general who was forced out of office by the Nixon administration after he campaigned hard against the dangers of smoking, died on Tuesday at the age of 87.
Steinfeld passed away in a nursing home in suburban Pomona, California, following a stroke he suffered about a month ago, said his daughter, Susan Steinfeld.
"He laid the groundwork for us to be better people and make the world a better place," she said by telephone.
Steinfeld was a cancer researcher and taught at the University of Southern California’s medical school before serving as Nixon's surgeon general from 1969 to 1973.
In office, Steinfeld won the ire of the tobacco industry for his stubborn efforts to publicize the hazards of smoking. He changed cigarette package labels that lukewarmly stated tobacco use might be connected to health problems.
Steinfeld's label boldly warned: "The surgeon general has determined that smoking is hazardous to your health."
He issued a report in 1971 that argued for tighter restrictions on smoking in public to protect people from secondhand smoke. He also promoted bans on smoking in restaurants, theaters, planes and other public places — decades before such prohibitions became commonplace.
"It's a good lesson for everyone on how long it takes to change public opinion," said another one of his daughters, Mary Beth Steinfeld.
Steinfeld refused to meet with tobacco industry lobbyists and hung signs around his office that read, "Thank you for not smoking," she said.
Steinfeld believed his anti-tobacco stance led to Nixon's request for his resignation at the start of the president's second term.
"He always used to talk about how he thought the tobacco companies were pressuring Nixon to get rid of him," Mary Beth Steinfeld said.
After Steinfeld left, the position of surgeon general remained vacant until President Jimmy Carter appointed Dr. Julius Richmond in 1977.
The only other surgeon general to be forced out of office was Dr. Jocelyn Elders, who was fired in 1994 during President Bill Clinton's administration, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Steinfeld was also vocal on other controversial issues, arguing that television violence has a bad influence on children, promoting the fluoridation of water and bans on the artificial sweetener cyclamate and the pesticide DDT.
Steinfeld later served as the director of the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Medical Cancer Center and as a professor at the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota. He also was the president of the Medical College of Georgia, in Augusta, from 1983 to 1987, when he retired.
In addition to his two daughters, Steinfeld is survived by another daughter, Jody Stefansson of Pasadena, California; his wife, Gen, of Pomona and two grandchildren.
Al Jazeera and the Associated Press