May 1, 2023
On Jan. 11, 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, Dr. Luther Terry, an Alabamian, released the federal government’s first report implicating cigarette smoking as a major cause of lung cancer and other diseases. Dr. Alan Blum was then a high school junior in Woodmere, NY, and at the urging of his physician-father, he wrote an editorial in the school newspaper about the troubling rise in youth smoking and the barrage of cigarette commercials on TV that were seen by children and teenagers.
Through college and medical school, he continued to write about smoking, to study the tobacco industry and to collect cigarette ads. In 1977, Blum founded the first physicians anti-smoking organization, Doctors Ought to Care (DOC), which attracted more than 5,000 doctors and medical students across the country. DOC’s activism sparked the involvement of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and other medical societies in supporting clean indoor air legislation and restrictions on cigarette promotion. When Blum joined the faculty at the College of Community Health Sciences as professor and the Gerald Leon Wallace, MD, Endowed Chair in Family Medicine, he established the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society (CSTS), which holds the most comprehensive collection of original materials related to the tobacco industry – newspaper and television coverage, books, rare advertising, photographs and promotional artifacts that Blum has amassed over many decades. The collection has served as the source for more than 2,000 invited presentations he has given at medical schools and conferences in all 50 states; several dozen articles he has written for The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, JAMA and other journals; and more than 30 museum and online historical exhibitions that he has produced about the tobacco industry, cigarette marketing and the anti-smoking movement. More than 25 of these exhibitions can be viewed at https://csts.ua.edu/exhibitions.
Through the years, Blum has also put together a variety of other small and large collections that he has donated to museums and libraries. His participation as a second-grader in the original Salk polio vaccine trial inspired a lifelong interest in polio. In 2017, he was invited by the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) to give the first Carlos Valbona Memorial Lecture, named after a leading authority on polio and post-polio syndrome with whom Blum worked at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. The next year, Blum donated his collection of articles and ephemera on polio to TIRR, along with his collection of several hundred newspaper articles about personal experiences of disability. These collections are being scanned and made available to physicians, students, patients, families and the public.
In 2022, the Center for the History of Medicine at the Countway Library of Harvard Medical School in Boston asked to have Blum’s collections on pharmaceutical marketing and alcohol marketing. These collections, which were organized by graduate students in UA’s School of Library and Information Studies, were donated to the Countway Library in March 2023 and are being made available to researchers.