Cancer center, collaborators create historical display to be shown as part of commemorations in nation's capital
From its seminal studies in the first half of the 20th century linking tobacco use and cancer incidence to its latest findings on electronic cigarettes, Roswell Park Cancer Institute has been a major force in tobacco-control research. So, as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. surgeon general's report on smoking and health, issued in January 1964, faculty from RPCI's department of health behavior are drawing attention to the major gains from the past half-century in our understanding of how tobacco impacts health -and to the challenges that still face the international public-health community in regard to use and regulation of tobacco products.
"Our knowledge of how smoking affects the body has increased exponentially over the last five decades, and we've made tremendous advances in understanding the addictive power of nicotine," said Andrew Hyland, Ph.D., chair of the department of health behavior at the comprehensive cancer center. "But really, we've just scratched the surface in terms of implications for public policy."
The 1964 report, which concluded that cigarette smoking "contributes substantially to mortality from certain specific diseases and to the overall death rate," served as a major and historic step to curb the devastating toll of tobacco use.
In connection with those national observances, Roswell Park worked with collaborators at the Medical University of South Carolina to develop a historical display, 40 feet wide by 8 feet tall, documenting the conclusions and impact of the 1964 report. The display, which debuted Jan. 17 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Building, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was the brainchild of K. Michael Cummings, Ph.D., MPH, a longtime faculty member and former chair of health behavior at RPCI, who is now on the MUSC faculty.
Hyland notes Roswell Park's contributions to tobacco research and policy have been considerable.
"From the research of doctors Saxon Graham, Morton Levin and John Pickren, which played a central role in that groundbreaking 1964 report, right up to the 2012 report, Roswell Park faculty have been well-represented in the various surgeon general's reports, serving as researchers, reviewers and authors," he said. "We're proud of that long history of research that has been instrumental in helping to reduce the debilitating impact of tobacco."
Roswell Park became one of the very first centers to routinely document the smoking histories of its patients, in 1938, and undertook the first case-control study of cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
RPCI also, under the leadership of people such as Cummings, did pioneering work in the arena of legal intervention, scouring tobacco-industry records to document just what tobacco companies knew about the effects of smoking, particularly on targeted and vulnerable populations, including children, Hyland added.
Today, Roswell Park scientists continue to conduct research on tobacco-control issues such as flavored tobacco, graphic warning labels and e-cigarettes. RPCI also is engaged in community service, providing education and information to reduce the burden of tobacco through programs such as the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition, New York State Smokers' Quitline and Tobacco Cessation Center of Western New York.
"Tobacco use remains the most preventable cause of death, and we need to ensure that effective resources are available to protect youth from ever starting, and to help smokers quit," noted Martin Mahoney, M.D., Ph.D., a RPCI physician who is medical director of the New York Quitline and also directs the TCCWNY. "The Roswell Park tobacco-control program is a marriage between scientific research and community engagement. Both are necessary for reducing the tremendous toll of disease, disability and death caused by tobacco use."
The mission of Roswell Park Cancer Institute is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, RPCI is one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in upstate New York. The institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation's leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit www.roswellpark.org, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724) or email [email protected]. Follow RPCI on Facebook and Twitter.