The driving force behind President Nixon’s push for the signing of the National Cancer Act is the same driving force behind contemporary reports on tobacco use: the peak of tobacco consumption in the 1960s. In a report published by the National Cancer Institute under the National Institutes of Health, cigarette consumption per capita in the United States reached an all time high of 4,345 in 1963. While there was a steady rise in per capita consumption from about 1954 to 1960, consumption rates began wavering until they dipped in 1964.

Social events and trends heavily impacted tobacco-use rates throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. When the Surgeon General’s report on smoking was published in 1964, there was a noticeable rise in concern over the social acceptability of smoking cigarettes. Likewise, the rise of advertising and mass marketing became the biggest contributor to tobacco sales. Campaigns targeted at women to “Reach for a Lucky instead of a Sweet” insinuated that smoking cigarettes was an effective tool for weight loss. Similarly, it was apparent that men have a higher prevalence of smoking than women do, as well as men were more likely to smoke cigarettes as a social act before the same trend became apparent in women. Men fighting overseas in World War II were provided with free cigarettes during their service, which contributed hugely to tobacco use among men of those age groups. The pervasiveness of smoking was also more likely to occur depending on not only age group and ethnicity, but level of education as well.

View the Surgeon General’s report below: 

The biggest changes in media and marketing started in the 1960s. When initial reports discussing the links between lung cancer and tobacco were published in the 1950s, the tobacco industry responded by creating the Council for Tobacco Research, designed to legitimize the tobacco industry’s media campaign against the validity of scientific evidence linking tobacco and illness. Simultaneously, tobacco companies began advertising and selling filtered cigarettes and low-nicotine cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco users who were concerned about their health.

In June 1967, the Federal Communications Commission required that large amounts of free airtime be provided for anti-smoking commercials on television and the radio in attempt to balance out the number of cigarette advertisements aired. An estimated $75,000,000 worth, or $460,662,371 when adjusted for inflation, of anti-smoking advertisements were broadcast for free until 1970, when cigarette advertisements were banned from television and radio and anti-smoking advertisements were deemed unnecessary. In late 1971, President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, effectively declaring that cancer, a well-known consequence of regular tobacco usage, was now a primary concern across the nation.