A post by the Facebook account “The Informed Mama” here links historical adverts for nicotine, DDT, heroin, and asbestos with the CDC (U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention) by including pictures of the adverts along with the text: “Didn’t you know the CDC has your best interest at heart ? They would never support a product that can harm you or your children. The scientist that continued to say cigarettes are safe would never have an insidious agenda. Never.”
The advertisements in the post promote the use of nicotine during pregnancy, the use of insecticide DDT to keep flies away from babies, the use of “heroin hydrochloride” by order of a physician, and asbestos as a good option for building insulation.
The claim is likely circulating because of the CDC’s current spotlight in managing the spread of COVID-19, here .
The CDC is a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services, founded in 1946. Its stated goal is to protect public health and safety through “health promotion, prevention of disease, injury and disability, and preparedness for new health threats”, here. Although the CDC plays a role in the regulation of certain products, this also fits within the objectives of other federal agencies, including the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), here.
Reuters looked at the source of the advertisements featured in this post and researched any possible links with the CDC.
The “Nico Time” advertisement promoting smoking during pregnancy is fake. It stems from the video game series Bioshock, see here. Their site confirms the “Nico Time” advertisement was designed by Kat Berkley, an artist who worked on the game (see here and here).
Before the 1964 surgeon general’s report on smoking, tobacco companies in the U.S. did produce advertisements downplaying the risks of smoking, here. Although in 1963, the FDA expressly stated that tobacco did not fit under the category of “hazardous” substances, by 1965 the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act required labels on cigarette packs warning of potential health hazards, here.
In September 1965, the Public Health Service established a small unit called the National Clearinghouse for Smoking and Health. This unit—later the Office on Smoking and Health, under the CDC—has been responsible for 29 reports on the health consequences of smoking, here. It is therefore false that the CDC promoted smoking, or the use of nicotine.
The poster for DDT, the harmful synthetic insecticide, is real. A reverse image search finds that it was an advertisement for the insecticide company Black Flag, which produced DDT, visible here. Black Flag made similar advertisements, one visible here, that the Science History Institute dates to the 1940’s.
Per the CDC, the U.S. banned the use of DDT in 1972 (here).
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the regulation of DDT began in the 1950s and 1960s because of “mounting evidence of the pesticide’s declining benefits and environmental and toxicological effects”, here. Reuters was unable to corroborate any role the CDC might have played in DDT’s initial use or its later regulation by the federal government. It is likely that the CDC’s policies would be in line with the EPA’s stance since the 1950s, as a fellow government agency.
The label that reads “Heroin hydrochloride”, and “The Bayer Co. LTD”, is also real. According to Forbes, the German pharmaceutical company Bayer “commercialized heroin as a cough suppressant and morphine substitute” in the late 19th and early 20th century (here). According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report on the history of Heroin, there was widespread enthusiasm for this drug in the early 20th century and this was “illustrated in the medical literature of the time” (here).
In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act had been passed in the U.S. to heavily regulate opium, here. In 1920, nearly three decades before the creation of the CDC (here), the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted the following resolution: “that heroin be eliminated from all medicinal preparations and that it should not be administered, prescribed, nor dispensed; and that the importation, manufacture, and sale of heroin should be prohibited in the United States”, here. This was one of many steps limiting the use of this drug.
Four years later, the importation, possession, and use of heroin was effectively criminalized by the federal government, here. In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created to further enforce the provision of the Harrison Narcotics Act, here. Currently, the Drug Enforcement Agency considers heroin is a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling.
It is therefore not possible for the CDC, a federal government agency, to have supported the use of heroin given that the agency was created decades after federal law deemed the drug as dangerous.
The advertisement poster for asbestos is also real. The ad reads, “Let this magic mineral, asbestos, protect the buildings on your farm!” On the bottom right corner is a company logo reading “JM” for Johns Manville, a manufacturer of insulation and roofing materials involved in a series of product-liability lawsuits over the harmful health effects of asbestos (see more about this here). The Asbestos Institute, (accredited by the EPA and Cal-OSHA, according to its website, here), dates the advertisement to 1937 (here).
In its "History and Heritage" tab, Johns Manville’s website recognizes the “advent and demise of the ‘miracle mineral’—asbestos”, here. Asbestos has been referred to as the "magic mineral" due to its importance as an industrial resource, see here. By the mid-20th century, scientists and government agencies had collected considerable data on the effects of exposure to asbestos. By the 1960s, evidence was mounting that exposure to asbestos was dangerous (though it continued to be used in some ways until up to 1970), see here.
In 1971, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, under the CDC, developed the first document describing the harmful effects of asbestos, here. It is therefore false that the CDC supported the use of asbestos, which it recognized as harmful nearly fifty years ago.
False: Although in the U.S. the use of certain harmful products has been historically promoted, it is false that the CDC actively supported their use
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