How tobacco companies used stress research to trick people into thinking cigarettes were healthy

While reading this morning's issue of The Browser, I learned about this fascinating NPR article from 2014 about the surprising origins of our modern concept of stress. I have always accepted stress as an undisputed scientific fact, but according to the article, the foundational research on stress was funded and shaped by the tobacco industry.

Key points from the article:

  • The idea of stress harming physical health originated with Hans Selye's rat experiments in the 1930s. Selye went on to popularize stress research globally.
  • The concept of "Type A personality" prone to stress-related heart disease was developed by two American cardiologists in the 1950s.
  • Tobacco companies heavily funded and influenced stress research, including Selye's work. They promoted the idea that stress, not smoking, caused heart disease and cancer.
  • Documents show tobacco lawyers reviewed and edited Selye's writings on stress.
  • Early studies showing links between Type A personality and heart attacks were often tobacco-funded. Later independent research has not supported these findings.
  • While chronic stress does impact health, some scientists now argue that the tobacco-promoted narrative that all stress is harmful is overly simplistic.

Gentleman smokes 75-year-old cigarette from military rations