From Virginia Slims to smoke-free states: 50 years of US smoking culture

by @benpiven January 15, 2014 5:00AM ET

In 1964, Surgeon General reported link between tobacco and cancer. Smoking debates now center on quitting, e-cigarettes

Public Health

Turn back the clock to before 1964: Tobacco companies provided free Lucky Strikes in American troops’ World War II rations. It was not until the early 1950s that cigarette taxes began to generate considerable revenue for all levels of government. Several major cigarette brands were aggressively marketed on television, including sponsorship of popular shows.

Overall U.S. tobacco consumption — including cigarettes and other products — peaked in the 1950s at about 13 pounds per person annually, as the federal excise tax on cigarettes was raised to 8 cents a pack. But the nation slowly began to take stock of the health toll. American broadcast icon Edward R. Murrow, who famously smoked on air, died of lung cancer one year before the surgeon general’s famous report. At the time of its publication, the average American smoked 4,345 cigarettes per year — a historic high. All told, the smoking epidemic has killed many times more Americans than have died in all U.S. wars combined.