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Surgeon general who fought tobacco dies at 87

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

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billcdaly August 06 2014 at 8:56 AM

RIP Dr. Steinfeld. Your fight probably saved thousands of lives.

A shame the big corporations had you fired.

Flag Reply +30 rate up
3 replies
jvglengate August 06 2014 at 8:33 AM

Dr. Jesse Steinfeld, an American hero who made the world a better place.

Flag Reply +26 rate up
Nancy August 06 2014 at 9:02 AM

Big Business has been directing the government for a long time. Time to put a stop to it.

Flag Reply +22 rate up
5 replies
mabelb2bn August 06 2014 at 8:27 AM

He is a real hero.

Flag Reply +22 rate up
1 reply
I love Snickers mabelb2bn August 06 2014 at 12:54 PM

VERY true. Dr. Steinfield did his job and did it well. But how dare he try to take money out of the pockets of the poor tobacco companies, who were just doing THEIR jobs of killing people with tobacco use. And after they spent all that money on ads saying "Not a cough in a carload," "Give your throat a vacation, smoke a fresh cigarette!!" (with a drawing of a doctor holding up a pack), even with a picture of a small child "Before you scold me, Mom . . . maybe you should light up a Marlboro." Even RONALD REAGAN was shown in ads, autographing cartons and saying, "I'm sending Chesterfields to all my friends. That's the merriest Christmas any smoker can have." And Steinfield was trying to rain on the tobacco company's parade. Tsk, tsk.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
frankdlu August 06 2014 at 8:48 AM


Flag Reply +19 rate up
1 reply
slackwarerobert frankdlu August 06 2014 at 5:01 PM

Oh, so you have proof it was a cigarette? and not the big mac, or the red m&m?
I hope you kept the evidence, I would love to see this killer cigarette myself. You probably used filters, unfiltered don't cause any harm. just 100% NATURAL tobacco.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
2 replies
thomapickens slackwarerobert August 06 2014 at 6:44 PM

The proof, slacker, is in the graveyards.

Flag +3 rate up
leavesbound slackwarerobert August 07 2014 at 2:22 AM

My father died at the age of 44 from natural tobacco years before they added anything to it. My mother smoked organic cigarettes like what you describe and she died of lung cancer. I was forced to inhale their second hand smoke as a child and never smoked myself but I have respiratory problems and went through cancer myself. Smoking kills people period. If you think otherwise you are fooling yourself.

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nancyihnat August 06 2014 at 8:55 AM

A man who did the right thing despite pressure. A real hero who has saved lives!

Flag Reply +13 rate up
Meh... August 06 2014 at 9:25 AM

So our governments being in the pockets of big business has been going on since the 70's. Here's a guy who tried to save people from the dangers of smoking, but was silenced. Think of all the people (back in the day) who obliviously smoked. I've seen adds from that time encouraging smoking to improve your health. You think they were just horribly ignorant, but then you see what happened to this guy, and you know it wasn't ignorance. It was just "bad for business".

Think of the thousands of lives that could have been changed if this guy were allowed to publicly disclose the dangers of smoking back then.

But that's not very good for the tobacco industry is it. Just another fine example of how our govt looks out for big business, and their wallets, while directly allowing the citizens they are elected to represent and protect, suffer the ill effects of their money making.

They don't care, and they haven't for the last half a century at the least.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
4 replies
jnjbeery August 06 2014 at 8:25 AM

Mean while they let that stupid Obama in office to keep screwing up this country.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
15 replies
randy822 August 06 2014 at 9:41 AM

He truly was a pioneer in fighting for America's health. Thank you for all you tried to do.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
GUNSLINGER August 06 2014 at 9:07 AM

As the "U.S. BORDER INVASION" is smoking!!

Flag Reply +7 rate up
3 replies
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