Black-and-white images of soldiers abroad brandishing “victory cigars” in the fight against a cruel and oppressive enemy lit up television screens in homes across the nation, and “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” by Merle Travis was a national hit on the air waves. Cigarettes were an icon of glamor with a hint of rugged sophistication, and America was very much the land of the free and home of the brave during World War II.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt ensured that tobacco was a protected crop during this time, as tobacco companies sent millions of free cigarettes overseas in GI’s C-rations. Tobacco use was so prevalent by the end of the Second World War, that cigarette sales hit an all-time high.
Seven years after the end of World War II, in 1952, Reader’s Digest published “Cancer by the Carton,” the first series of articles that brought the dangers of smoking, which had previously been ignored, to the public’s attention. Twelve years later, in 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office published an extensive report that linked tobacco use with lung cancer and other diseases. Since then, the Surgeon General has released 32 reports on smoking, including its January 14, 2014 report, “The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress.”