The question of whether cigarette smoking was associated with lung cancer was central to the expansion of epidemiology into the study of chronic diseases in the 1950s. The culmination of this era was the 1964 report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General, a landmark document that included an objective synthesis of the evidence of the health consequences of smoking according to causal criteria. The report concluded that cigarette smoking was a cause of lung cancer in men and sufficient in scope that "remedial action" was warranted at the societal level. The 2014 Surgeon General's report commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1964 report. The evidence on the health consequences of smoking has been updated many times in Surgeon General's reports since 1964. These have summarized our increasingly greater understanding of the broad spectrum of the deleterious health effects of exposure to tobacco smoke across most major organ systems. In turn, this evidence has been translated into tobacco control strategies implemented to protect the public's health. The Surgeon General report process is an enduring example of evidence-based public health in practice. Substantial progress has been made, but cigarette smoking remains one of the most pressing global health issues of our time.
Keywords: causal inference; cigarette smoking; epidemiology; evidence-based public health; history; lung cancer; research methods; secondhand smoke exposure.