Jesse Steinfeld, anti-tobacco surgeon general

by | Aug 15, 2014 | Obituaries

LOS ANGELES (JTA)—Dr. Jesse Steinfeld, who fought vigorously as surgeon general to warn the public of the dangers of smoking, has died.

Steinfeld, who served in the post from 1969 until President Richard Nixon forced his resignation in 1973, died Tuesday, Aug. 5 in Pomona, Calif., from complications resulting from a stroke. He was 87.

Nixon appointed Steinfeld, who used his office as a bully pulpit to become an outspoken and pointed critic of tobacco until his ouster.

Steinfeld was the first surgeon general to warn the public of the dangers of secondhand smoke and called for a smoking ban in most public areas. He also insisted on the warning on cigarette labels, “The Surgeon General has determined that smoking is hazardous to your health,” which was stronger and more definitive than previous warnings.

During his tenure as surgeon general, Steinfeld also warned against the deleterious effects of television violence on children, the dangers of pesticides and carcinogens in food.

The son of Jewish immigrants from Hungary, Steinfeld grew up in West Aliquippa, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. According to The Washington Post, he was inspired to study medicine by the premature death of his father, a heavy smoker, from a heart attack when Steinfeld was five years old.

After resigning as surgeon general, Steinfeld subsequently served as the dean of the School of Medicine at the Medical College of Virginia and then as president of the Medical College of Georgia.