Dr. Luther Terry, who as Surgeon General of the United States declared cigarettes a "health hazard" in 1964, yesterday petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to classify them as a drug and require doctors' prescriptions for their use.
erry joined Prof. John F. Banzhaf 111 of George Washington University law school and several other petitioners in asking the FDA to treat cigarettes "as severly as saccharin."
"According to FDA, saccharin may kill 800 persons a year," Terry said. "The Public Heath Service estimates that cigarette smoking kills 300,000, and that a life-long smoker's life may be shortened by eight years."
The FDA has maintained for years that it has no authority over tobacco products, and that they could not be classified as a drug in any case since they could not pass the "efficacy" tests required to show that drugs help in some disease.
Banzhaf, whose anti-smoking group, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), was the prime mover in yesterday's petition, disagreed. In a 41-page petition backed by 15 pages of scientific exhibits, he said it has been amply demonstrated that cigarettes are addictive and, if the FDA so ruled, a doctor could write a prescription for them "to relieve smokers' addictions," just as a doctor can write a prescription for morphine in some conditions.
Dr. Harcy Ammerman, a Washington neurosurgeon and president-elect of the D.C. Medical Society, said that society "strongly endorses" ASH's petition.
"The nicotine in cigarettes is in fact a drug," Ammerman said at ASH's news conference at the medical society's headquarters. "The FDA has every reason to regulate cigarettes as they now regulate other drugs, foods and potentially dangerous substances.
William Kloepfer Jr., vice president of the Tobacco Institute, an industry association, said Congress has emphatically rejected legislation to authorize FDA regulation of tobacco.
Surgeon General from 1961 to 1965, Terry is now an adjunct professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.