World No Tobacco Day is celebrated every year on 31 around the worldst of May, which draws attention to the negative health effects of tobacco use that continue to lead to millions of deaths around the world.

Sir Richard DollAlthough the role that tobacco consumption plays in the development of cancer is now at least known, it was not always so: sixty years ago, cancer was widely thought of as a natural consequence of age, much like gray hair or wrinkled skin. This was the pioneering work of Sir Richard Doll, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, who showed that smoking was a major cause of the then rapidly increasing epidemic of lung cancer in the UK.

When the results of his study were first published in 1950, the medical community had already noticed that the number of deaths due to lung cancer was increasing rapidly. But the reason for this increase was not known: Doll himself initially thought that the increase could be due to tarring of roads, as there were known carcinogens in tar. However, careful study showed that the consistent difference between those who had lung cancer and those who did not was that the lung cancer patients smoked.

To convince a still-skeptical community in the 1950s (when smoking was very common), Richard Doll then enrolled 40,000 British doctors in a new type of study in 1951: all participants were asked about their smoking habits, and then prospective consequence. many years, to trace the ultimate cause of death. This British doctoral study contributed to our understanding of the effects of tobacco on health for 50 years, as Doll continued to closely monitor every British doctor he recruited originally in 1950 who still lived in Britain.

Richard Peto, Valerie Beral & Richard Doll on Roof of Richard Doll Building - Courtesy of Cancer Epidemiology Unit, OxfordRichard Peto, Valerie Beral & Richard Doll on Roof of Richard Doll Building – Courtesy of Cancer Epidemiology Unit, OxfordLargely due to Richard Doll’s efforts, in 1957 the British government became the first government to accept that smoking causes lung cancer. Our understanding of the ill effects of tobacco and smoking has since continued to evolve, and NDM researchers are still working on tobacco-related diseases.

The Richard Doll Building on Oxford University’s Old Road campus opened shortly before Sir Richard Doll’s death in 2005. It currently houses the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, among many other research units.

Richard Peto, Valerie Beral & Richard Doll on the roof of Richard Doll Building, courtesy of Cancer Epidemiology Unit, OxfordRichard Peto, Valerie Beral & Richard Doll on the roof of Richard Doll Building, courtesy of Cancer Epidemiology Unit, OxfordA memorial plaque inside the building has the following quote from Doll:

‘Death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not. In previous centuries, 70 years was considered mankind’s assigned life span, and only about one in five lived to such an age. Today, however, for non-smokers in Western countries, the situation is reversed: only about one in five will die before 70, and the death rates for non-smokers are still declining, promising, at least in developed countries, of a world where death before 70 is unusual. For this promise to be properly realized, ways must be found to limit the great damage now being done by tobacco and to reach not only the many millions of people in developed countries, but also the much larger populations elsewhere, the extent at home to bring. to which those who continue to smoke shorten their life expectancy by doing so. ‘