My father, Walt Disney, was a lifelong smoker. He died of lung cancer 10 days after his 65th birthday, in 1966.
Dad ran away from home when he was 15 years old and joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. At the end of the Great War, he began to smoke cigarettes for the same reasons adolescents do today: to symbolize their independence, to appear older and more sophisticated, to look “cool”. Like so many others, he became addicted to nicotine, although he never would have believed himself addicted to anything.
My father’s death was devastating to us, to everyone who worked with him and to those who knew him as a friend. The whole world mourned him. Nine months later, my sister’s husband, Bob Brown, also a lifelong smoker, died of the same disease. Bob was only 38 years old, not a famous man, but a sweet, wonderful guy who cherished his wife and baby daughter. His death was also devastating to all who knew and loved him. His daughter never had a chance to know him.
Smoking has killed 10 million people in the United States since the first surgeon general’s report on the dangers of nicotine and smoking in 1964. It will continue to kill smokers and susceptible nonsmokers. This is senseless and deplorable. Lung cancer is one fatal disease that can be almost completely eradicated by a lifestyle change. More than 90% of lung cancer, one of the cancers most resistant to treatment, is caused by smoking. Before the birth of the American cigarette industry, lung cancer was almost unheard of.
Dr. David Kessler, the courageous head of the Food and Drug Administration, has described smoking as a “pediatric disease” because 90% of smokers start their deadly habit as children. He has proposed to the White House that the FDA assert regulatory authority over tobacco products and take a series of steps to limit young people’s access to cigarettes and other tobacco products. What he proposes would have absolutely no affect on adults who choose to smoke. The only impact would be on those 18 and under for whom tobacco products are already illegal, and on those who attempt to market to them.
The President is said to be undecided. He may allow Kessler to go ahead, which means he must be prepared to help defend his FDA chief from the predictable legal assaults by the tobacco industry, as well as legislative assaults by Congress, where the industry has made huge campaign contributions over the years. The President must also be prepared to veto any bills that Congress might pass to override FDA action. This should be an easy: The health of children and their protection from the possibility of a dangerous addiction, or the appeasement of the tobacco industry. But it will take courage on the President’s part to do so.