How Tobacco Companies Used Stress Research to Make People Think Cigarettes Were Healthy

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Today a stroke of luck, tomorrow a stroke of bad luck.

While reading this morning’s edition of The Browser, I came across this fascinating NPR article from 2014 about the surprising origins of our modern concept of stress. I’ve always accepted stress as an undisputed scientific fact, but according to the article, the fundamental research on stress was funded and shaped by the tobacco industry.

Key points from the article:

  • The idea that stress damages physical health originated from Hans Selye’s rat experiments in the 1930s. Selye popularized stress research worldwide.
  • The concept of ‘Type A personality’, which is prone to stress-related heart disease, was developed in the 1950s by two American cardiologists.
  • Tobacco companies funded and influenced stress research, including Selye’s work. They promoted the idea that stress, not smoking, caused heart disease and cancer.
  • Documents show that tobacco industry lawyers reviewed and edited Selye’s writings on stress.
  • Early studies showing a link between Type A personality and heart attacks were often funded by the tobacco industry. Subsequent independent research has not supported these findings.
  • While chronic stress has an impact on health, some scientists argue that the tobacco-driven narrative that all stress is harmful is too simplistic.

• Gentleman smokes 75-year-old cigarette from military rations

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