If any of the good doctor's stands aroused more ire than his views on abortion and the rights of handicapped children, it was his campaign against smoking, which did not please the tobacco industry and powerful lobby, not at all. It was during his tenure as surgeon general -- in 1988 -- that his office released an irrefutable study on the addictive powers of tobacco.
As early as 1984, the doctor had challenged Americans to "create a smoke-free society in the United States by the year 2000." The prospect seemed a fantasy then, but year by year, it became closer to reality as this country led the world in fighting the noxious weed. Just during his time as surgeon general, smoking rates in this country dropped from 38 to 27 percent. He fought Big Tobacco with scientific evidence, political savvy and, perhaps most effective, social ostracism. He helped made smoking unfashionable, and fashion can be all in such a fight.
Dr. Koop may have made his errors of judgment. For example, he got entirely too close, too profitably to the manufacturers of some of the health products he'd helped develop. But his campaign against smoking, including the second-hand variety, was no mistake; it was more a vision achieved.
As surgeon-in-chief at Children's, he not only established innovative programs but taught, wrote and generally educated. He proceeded to do much the same as surgeon general of the United States, only on a larger scale and with a host of critics attacking his every pronouncement as he turned his office into a bully pulpit. He remained undaunted. And the target of angry critics. Like any man who takes a stand on moral issues.
Dr. Koop caught it from both sides -- the Advanced Thinkers and the Bible Thumpers, too. And he didn't seem to mind at all. Neither did President Reagan, who stuck by the doc throughout his long and controversial tenure as surgeon general. By its end, whatever Americans might think about his science or religion (he was what used to be called an Iron Presbyterian), he was universally admired and trusted. With that Amish-style beard and family-doctor manner, he'd become a kind of American institution. They called him the nation's doctor -- which is what he had become.