Surgeon general who fought tobacco dies at 87

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

Dr. Jesse Steinfeld
See Gallery
Surgeon general who fought tobacco dies at 87
This photo from circa 1970 provided by the National Library of Medicine shows former U.S. surgeon general Jesse Steinfeld. Steinfeld, who became the first surgeon general ever forced out of office by the president after campaigning against the dangers of smoking during the Richard Nixon era, has died in Southern California. He was 87. His daughter, Susan Steinfeld, says her father died Tuesday morning, Aug. 5, 2014 in a nursing home in Pomona, Calif., following a stroke he suffered a month ago. (AP Photo/National Library of Medicine)
OCT 22 1971, OCT 23 1971; Dr. Jesse Steinfeld, left, Dr. Wesley Hall Converse Prior to Meeting; Both were speakers at the meeting of Colorado Hearing and Speech Center Friday.; (Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images)
380450 26: President Richard Nixon in the Oval office February 19, 1970 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1900: Richard Nixon in United States in the 1970s - at the podium. (Photo by Don Carl STEFFEN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 18: Richard Nixon (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Dr. Jesse Steinfeld, who became the first surgeon general ever forced out of office by the president after he campaigned hard against the dangers of smoking during the Richard Nixon era, died Tuesday. He was 87.

Steinfeld died Tuesday morning in a nursing home in suburban Pomona following a stroke he suffered about a month ago, said his daughter, Susan Steinfeld of La Canada Flintridge.

"He laid the groundwork for us to be better people and make the world a better place," she said by telephone.

Steinfeld was a cancer researcher and taught at the USC medical school before serving as Nixon's surgeon general from 1969-1973.

In office, Steinfeld won the ire of the tobacco industry for his stubborn efforts to publicize the hazards of smoking. He changed cigarette package labels that lukewarmly stated tobacco use might be connected to health problems.

Steinfeld's label boldly warned: "The surgeon general has determined that smoking is hazardous to your health."

He issued a report in 1971 that argued for tighter restrictions on smoking in public to protect people from secondhand smoke. He promoted bans on smoking in restaurants, theaters, planes and other public places - decades before such prohibitions became commonplace.

"It's a good lesson for everyone on how long it takes to change public opinion," said another daughter, Mary Beth Steinfeld of Sacramento.

Steinfeld refused to meet with tobacco industry lobbyists and hung signs around his office that read, "Thank you for not smoking," she said.

Steinfeld believed his anti-tobacco stance led to Nixon's request for his resignation at the start of Nixon's second term.

"He always used to talk about how he thought the tobacco companies were pressuring Nixon to get rid of him," Mary Beth Steinfeld said.

After Steinfeld left, the position of surgeon general remained vacant until President Jimmy Carter appointed Dr. Julius Richmond in 1977.

The only other surgeon general to be forced out of office was Dr. Jocelyn Elders, who was fired in 1994 during President Bill Clinton's administration, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Steinfeld was also vocal on other controversial issues, arguing that television violence has a bad influence on children, promoting the fluoridation of water and bans on the artificial sweetener cyclamate and the pesticide DDT.

Steinfeld later served as the Director of the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Medical Cancer Center and as a professor at the Mayo Medical School. He also was the president of the Medical College of Georgia, in Augusta, from 1983-1987, when he retired.

In addition to his two daughters, Steinfeld is survived by another daughter, Jody Stefansson of Pasadena, California; his wife, Gen, of Pomona, California and two grandchildren.

Cancer Research
Surgeon General of the United States
National Cancer Act of 1971
Stroke Prevention
Cancer Prevention

More to read:
James Corden to replace Craig Ferguson
Body of missing Oregon woman discovered along remote dirt road
Rosetta probe reaches comet to study origins of life
Vet uses overdose reversal drug to revive kitten

Read Full Story

People are Reading