N.C. Cancer Society shuns Great American Smokeout

What could be more innocuous than today’s 36th annual Great American Smokeout? ‘Twas not always so.

In 1978 North Carolina’s Cancer Society was the only one in the country not encouraging a national day of tobacco abstinence. “The North Carolina division has not and does not endorse any action against or criticism of any product manufactured in North Carolina or anywhere else for that matter,” explained a society spokesman.

In a protest letter to his fellow board members, Dr. R. Wayne Rundles of the Duke University Medical Center wrote, “At the very least, [the decision not to participate] gives the impression we think only about our financial interests and have no public health conscience. At the worst, it makes North Carolinians appear bigoted, myopic, inept, two-faced and devious….. Our non-action turned out to be a massive national advertisement for the Smokeout….

“Tobacco is the greatest environmental health hazard in the world today. In North Carolina it represents, in addition, an endangered industry, an economic dilemma and a politician’s nightmare. We can’t solve these problems by denying their existence behind a cigarette wall…. Are we working on the solution, or are we part of the problem?”