The man who first proved conclusively that smoking causes cancer died last Sunday in Oxford. He was 92 years old.
Born in 1912 in Hampton (Middlesex), a card carrying communist until the German-Soviet pact of 1939, he served in France WWII and went on after the war to work in the statistical research unit of the Medical
Reseach Council, a unit he led during 21 years. Trying to understand the growth of pulmonary cancers in the UK (which were initially thought to be caused by air pollution), he noticed, in a group of 649 patients, that only 2 did not smoke. In 1954, a massive epidemiology study involving 40,000 doctors which would prove, 20 years later, that smoking had a direct incidence on life expectancy, being linked directly to a number of diseases.
All the specialists of the sector acknowledge that Sir Doll played a major role to reduce the number of smokers in the UK - and the proportion of adults smoking went down from 80% in 1954 to 25% today.
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Richard Doll was unanimously recognised as the most brilliant and most eminent of the great generation of British epidemiologists (Archie Cochrane, Jerry Morris, Charles Fletcher, ...) who, starting in the 50s, really revolutionised the study of chronic illnesses
, states Professor Rodolfo Saracci, epidemiology research director at the National Italian Reserach Council (Pisa).
Now, I would like to add a few words about cigarette smoke.
I don't care that smoking kills.
I really don't.
I don't smoke, and I don't worry that what little second hand smoke I suffer through will have any impact on my health. THIS IS NOT THE PROBLEM (although I understand it can be for people that have to work in smokey environments like bars or offices shared with smokers).
I don't even care that I will have to foot the medical bill of the smokers. I won't have to pay for their pensions, so that makes us about even, financially speaking (as was pointed out to much disgust by a cynical Philip Morris study done in the 1990s for the Czech government to encourage them not to limit smoking - but the point is valid).
No, my main gripe is that smoking stinks. Cigarette smoke hurts my eyes and throat, and sticks in clothes, and thus prevents me from going in enjoyable places where you smoke, like (in France) bars, most restaurants, night clubs and concerts. Airport halls are often a nightmare, as cigarette junkies cannt wait to be out of the airport to light one, and do it on the concourse just outside of the plane, and nobody ever fines them that I can see in European airports. Even supposedly law-abiding Germans do a terrible job there. Now I understand that people enjoy smoking in these places, but it would be nice to also have smoke-free bars. (Maybe I should go to Ireland or Italy - or of course California or NY)
Quite simply, smoking is disgusting to others, but it's one of these things that everybody tolerates just because. It's one of these things that have become huge negative externalities. Everybody thinks that most people don't mind because nobody complains. And few people dare to complain because they think they are the only one to be bothered and don't want to make a fuss. It's self-reinforcing, just like Microsoft Windows's dominance of the desktop. As you can guess, I make a fuss every single time I go to the restaurant ("your table is the non-smoking section"), when I see people smoking in the metro ("what's your problem. You with the police?" is the usual reply. I stare at them angrily, standing very close, repeating very politely, "please take your cigarette out, it bothers me and it is forbidden" until they relent. Boy are they pissed). (And yes, I am a Mac user, obviously. And yes, I am told I have a very scary look when I stare angrily)
Most journalists smoke, so the fact that, in addition to being deadly (they acknowledge that, but then everybody knows it and nobody seems to care) and often illegal (but journalist are a counterweight to power, right?), smoking is rude to others is never mentioned. Smoking still seems to be, in a number of countries, a "human right", and you can only be a sad and grumpy fellow if you dare to complain about it (in the same sad category, so to speak, as people who are against drinking, sex or, in France, dogs). But it stinks, it bothers others, and it is highly intrusive.
A large number of smokers are, thankfully, courteous and always ask politely around them if they can smoke, but they are drowned by the others, who could not care less, and simply don't even think about others when they light up. Sadly, the only solution against that is to make smoking forbidden everywhere- that's the only way they get it, when they are finally chastised visibly for their habit, and have to make real efforts to enjoy their sin without bothering everyone around them. So they pay for effectively being druggies, but mild smokers pay too, which seems to be unfair (for the record, my wife is an occasional smoker). But it's the only workable solution.
But we have the "weapon" that smoking kills to enforce this. How do we fight all the other engrained rude behaviors that pollute our lifes? Littering. Road rage. road noise. Queue jumping. Idling.
How do we get people to be civil, even if they are bent on destroying themselves (slowly)?
So thanks to Sir Doll for his work. Now we need a study that proves to us conclusively that cars kill...