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Peter Hamill, 80; director of report linking smoking, cancer

March 15, 2007|From the Baltimore Sun

Peter VanVechten Hamill, who was medical director for the pivotal 1964 U.S. surgeon general's report that linked smoking with lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases, died of pneumonia Saturday at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md. He was 80.

Hamill was scientific director and medical coordinator for the landmark "Smoking and Health" study. Congress responded a year later by requiring cigarette packages to include this warning: "The surgeon general has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health."

"He and many of the panel members smoked, but at the end of the study, I think, they had all quit," said his daughter, January H. Gatza of Bel Air, Md. "He had started smoking in medical school."

Hamill was born in Baltimore and grew up in Detroit. After studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he was a Golden Gloves boxing champion, and at St. John's College in Annapolis, he earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

He also received a medical degree from Michigan in 1953 and a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University after returning to the Annapolis area in 1959.

A commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, Hamill treated Native Americans in Alaska who had high rates of tuberculosis.

As concerns grew in the early 1960s about the health risks of tobacco use, U.S. Surgeon General Luther L. Terry tapped Hamill to assemble a 10-member advisory committee of scientists, scholars and statisticians because of his expertise in public health issues and his medical background in lung disease.

"Many of the members were initially reluctant to join another government committee, but Peter assured us that we would be free and uninhibited," said Charles A. LeMaistre, who was the youngest committee member and later president of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. "He was exceedingly well-trained in pulmonary disease and in epidemiology."

The report that medically defined the connection between smoking and cancer was issued to the media Jan. 11, 1964.

The surgeon general chose a Saturday to release the data in order to limit its effect on the stock market and to ensure that the report would receive maximum coverage.

"Peter deserved much of the credit for that report getting done," LeMaistre said.

Hamill later headed a government study on juvenile growth. He retired in 1978. He remained a medical consultant to Occidental Chemical Corp.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 54 years, the former Margot Henry; two sons, Peter V. Hamill Jr. of Annapolis and Northmore W. Hamill II of Falls Church, Va.; another daughter, Hannah E. Hamill of Chester; and 11 grandchildren.

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