Retro Action, May 16, 1988: Surgeon General Says Nicotine Is Really, Really Addictive

Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.
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The former surgeon general taunts a disinterested teen with a pack of Camels. (Photo: Reuters)

Has there ever been a Surgeon General that looked more like a surgeon general than C. Everett Koop?

With his retro, faux-Amish beard and colorful bowties, the pediatric surgeon embodied the persona of the nation's spokesman on public health, even reviving the century-old practice of donning the office's ceremonial military uniform during his daily operations.

But the Reagan-appointed Koop did much more than just play the part of the surgeon general. During his tenure from 1982 to 1989, the Dartmouth grad did just about everything possible to warn the public about the dangers of cigarettes, urging Americans to "create a smoke-free society in the United States by the year 2000" and publishing a controversial report declaring nicotine as addictive as heroin and cocaine.

"Is it appropriate for tobacco products to be sold through vending machines, which are easily accessible to children?'' asked Koop in a news conference following the report. ''Is it appropriate for free samples of tobacco products to be sent through the mail or distributed on public property, where verification of age is difficult if not impossible?"

"Shouldn't we treat tobacco sales at least as seriously as the sale of alcoholic beverages, for which a specific license is required and revoked for repeated sales to minors?''

After finishing his second term, Koop — who was also responsible for mandating the now-ubiquitous surgeon general's warning on both cigarette packs and advertisements — went on to star in "C. Everett Koop, M.D.", a five-part television series on health care reform which garnered him an Emmy in 1991.

The 35-year veteran of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia also made a memorable and hilarious appearance on Da Ali G Show in 2003 — worth checking out if you missed it the first time around:

 


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