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September 26, 1990

The unsung public health hero who helped launch the war on tobacco

JAMA. 1990;264(12):1597-1598. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450120111042

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REVOLUTIONS often begin in strange places. Consider the French antique coffee table sitting in the living room of the Indianapolis retirement home of Margaret Robbins, wife of the late career public health officer, Lewis W. Robbins, MD.

"It was at this very table," says Mrs Robbins, "that the first surgeon general's warning on the health hazards of tobacco was written in 1958 and 1959."

That seminal paper, which went through 42 drafts over an 18-month period, was published over the signature of US Surgeon General Leroy R. Burney, MD, in JAMA on November 28, 1959, and helped launch medicine's war on tobacco.

Mrs Robbins has been up "well past midnight" in preparation for this JAMA reporter, and a yellowed copy of the nine-page paper now rests on the sturdy walnut marble-topped table. An inscription at the top of the paper reads: "To Mother and Dad—This is what we've been working