Cigarette, my dear?
Everyone knows smoking is bad for you. Why? Firstly, because it's writ large on fag packets. And, secondly, if you ever see a TV character holding a cigarette you know it’s a baddy. Or Dot Cotton.
It wasn’t always like this. Bogart and Bacall, Jimmy Dean, Sandra D. How come smoking was ok then?
Because nobody knew it was bad for you.
Really? You must have had an inkling, surely? What about all the coughing and wheezing?
Ok, we knew about that, but not that it could kill you.
What about the increase in lung cancer in the early 20th century coinciding with the increase in cigarette smoking?
The man credited with making the link was epidemiologist Richard Doll.
Sir Richard was one of the finest British scientists of the last century and did more to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking than anyone else. But spotting the link between smoking and lung cancer principally consisted of asking people with the disease if they smoked, them saying 'yes' and another tick going in the 'Nurse, I think we’re on to something' box.
But people didn't believe it. There was no proof of the link. Ok, so almost everyone with lung cancer was a smoker. But maybe it was their predisposition to lung cancer that caused them to smoke? That's straight from the pages of the It's Not Guns That Shoot People book of logic.
Even after the slightly surreal headline in the New York Times in 1970: '12 Dogs Develop Lung Cancer in Group of 86 Taught to Smoke', the tobacco industry dismissed the evidence because smoking had not been proved unsafe to 'human health'. These were just media 'scare stories'. People aren't, after all, Beagles.
Now even the tobacco companies admit that their products 'may cause harm'. In 1954 George Weissman, the vice-president of Philip Morris, said that the cigarette industry 'would stop business tomorrow if it believed smoking was harmful'.
Still waiting, Georgie.
**PS. Apparently there are other soap characters who smoke and aren't, on the whole, baddies. And Dot Cotton has remarried and is now called Dot Branning. So what do I know?