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Shocking news in ’64: Smoking causes lung cancer

Cigarettes were prominently displayed for sale at the gift shop of the former Community-General Hospital. ND. Pictures are hospital volunteers Peg Roth and Jayne Hayes. From Health Science Library, Upstate Medical University

Cigarettes were prominently displayed at the gift shop of the former Community-General Hospital, circa 1970. Pictured are hospital volunteers Peg Roth and Jayne Hayes. From the Health Sciences Library, Upstate Medical University.

Fifty years ago, Upstate‘s hospitals opened their doors and the US Surgeon General issued the first report on Smoking and Health, linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. That report — the first of 31 issued by the US Surgeon General — laid the foundation for the tobacco control efforts that we know today.

In 1964, close to half of adults in the United States smoked. Televisions blared cigarette commercials  and newspapers were filled with ads that claimed cigarettes “refresh while you smoke” and tobacco‘s “good taste never quits.”

Upstate President Carlyle Jake Jacobsen PhD smokes a cigarette at the opening ceremony for SUNY Upstate University Hospital, July 1964.

Upstate President Carlyle “Jake” Jacobsen PhD puffs on a cigarette during the opening ceremony for Upstate University Hospital, July 1964.

Hospital gift shops sold cigarettes, and Upstate‘s president smoked in the medical school's corridors and during campus events.

Today, it‘s hard to imagine that people ever smoked in hospitals. But Cindy Cary and Linda Veit, both of whom have worked at Upstate for 28 years, remember when social norms were very different, and second-hand smoke was rampant.

“There were ash trays at nurses‘ stations. Patient rooms were smoking and non-smoking,” explains Cary, who was a respiratory therapist and is now director of Upstate‘s smoking cessation program.

Researchers were in the lab studying the effects of smoke inhalation. Down the hall, secretaries were smoking cigarettes,” describes Veit, who was a lab technician and is now special projects manager for the Upstate Cancer Center. “Most people knew smoking shouldn‘t happen in a hospital, but they still did it.”

Today, Cary and Veit are dedicating their careers to tackling lung cancer and tobacco use. Cary runs free smoking cessation classes, year-round, at multiple locations through Upstate‘s HealthLink program. Veit administers a lung cancer screening program as part of her work for the Upstate Cancer Center.

Ten years ago, Upstate President Gregory Eastwood MD announced plans to institute a smoke-free campus. At the time, 13 percent of Upstate employees and students smoked. By August 2005, Upstate had become the first smoke-free SUNY campus.

Several years later, Upstate worked with Onondaga County to expand tobacco control at area hospitals. The 2009 Smoke-free Sidewalk Ordinance prevents smoking within 100 feet of hospital property.

Today 17.7 percent of New Yorkers use tobacco.