Smoking, Information and Education: The Royal College of Physicians and the New Public Health Movement

Jonathan James (University of Bath)

I examine the impact of medical information, that made the link between smoking and lung cancer, on the education smoking gradient. I exploit the publication of the report “Smoking and Health” by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) on 7th March 1962. The report was the birth of a new public health movement where medics began to speak directly to the public. The publication of the report was combined with a press release and press conference - a first for the RCP. Following the report, I document a large increase in media coverage of smoking and lung cancer. Using a historical data set that contains information about the smoking habits of the general public from 1958 to 1965, I find that  there was a decrease in smoking for those with more schooling after the report's publication. I do not find a difference in the effect for those with greater access to this information (measured by TV ownership). This suggests the education health gradient is more likely due to processing of information rather than access. By 1980 the gap remained, although subsequent reports had not widened it. Finally, I document a significant education gap in knowledge surrounding the health risks of smoking 20 years after the report was published.