In the early 1960s, researchers at Brown and Williamson, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, made a sickening discovery: Smoking could cause lung cancer. In public, the company claimed cigarettes were perfectly safe. Behind closed doors, their scientists searched for ways to remove cancer-causing compounds from cigarettes.
As their own internal documents show, the search for a safe cigarette was doomed from the start. The researchers found that burning tobacco produces a stunning collection of dangerous chemicals, no matter how it’s grown, treated, or packaged. Simply put, the only safe cigarette is one that never gets lit.
Today, of course, the secret is out. Everyone from the Surgeon General to the kid on the street corner knows smoking causes lung cancer. In fact, it causes the vast majority of all lung cancer, a disease that kills an estimated 161,000 Americans each year. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 80 percent of all cases of the disease are caused by smoking. Here’s another way to put the danger in perspective: According to the National Cancer Institute, 30 percent of all cancer deaths are directly attributable to smoking.
Even the tobacco companies are now willing to admit the obvious. A statement on the Philip Morris website says it all: “We agree with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other serious diseases.”
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