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The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and…

The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the… (2007)

by Allan M. Brandt

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Outstanding history of the devious tobacco industry in America, focusing on the 20th century. ( )
  vegetarian | Mar 24, 2012 |
Brandt set out to write a book about cigarettes that he thought would be quick because so little was known about the industry’s internal workings. Then as part of one of the settlements millions of documents were released, and his plan changed. Brandt tracks the deliberate creation of demand via newly developed marketing techniques that are now standard and then the deliberate creation of controversy as evidence mounted about the dangers of cigarettes. The companies knew that their only hope was to generate uncertainty among the public, so they pursued a “teach the controversy” strategy while simultaneously maintaining that the choice to smoke was an individual, informed one, since the risks of cigarettes were well-known. Eventually these strategies conflicted, but fortunately the individual choice narrative succeeded in dominating, plus the industry was able to exercise so much political influence that regulation ended up protecting tobacco more than discouraging its consumption. The ending chapters are truly distressing, especially the parts about the US pressuring other countries to allow more tobacco imports, which leads to US marketing strategies and massive increases in smoking. It also turns out that tobacco has a relationship to that other source of evil, securitization—in the “global” settlement with the states, the states got promised big payouts and then securitized their interests, so now they lose money if people stop smoking. ( )
  rivkat | Apr 12, 2010 |
As the title implies, this thick tome is dedicated to 100 years of the cigarette industry, mostly within the US. Brandt tells the story of its quick rise from a minuscule portion of the tobacco trade (during the reign of the spittoon) to the ubiquitous product of today. It’s certainly a big book; about half way through I put it down and read about cholera just to maintain my sanity. However it was easy to resume as this is a most interesting history.

Being a persecuted, misguided consumer myself, I picked this up with a few questions and some misconceptions about the machinations of “big tobacco” – most regarding topics that are well covered here. For instance, admitting that the tobacco companies certainly might be considered “rogue” in that they peddle a potentially deadly product, I still had the naïve opinion that the recent witch hunts conducted by various trial lawyers have been way over-the-top (and, thus, I have to pay a crap-load more for my favorite vice). Pernicious or not, it is a legal industry after all. However I now understand how insanely unregulated Big Tobacco has been. Talk about sporting a Teflon coating. These companies have seen win-win propositions the whole way through (please pardon my ignorance, I’ve never seen The Insider nor any televised companion pieces). The labeling act ended up giving the industry 30 years of impenetrable litigation protection. The voluntary television commercial ban resulted in the elimination of accompanying anti-tobacco ad spots. The recent state Medicare-based lawsuits had the bizarre effect of making the relatively incompetent state governments dependant upon successful tobacco sales. These settlements failed to accomplish any desired regulations and basically resulted in a short-term economic inconvenience to the corporations (though certainly irreversible price increases to the consumer). If the anti-tobacco zealots rounded up the Marlboro Man and tossed him off the George Washington Bridge, you can rest assure he’d land in the Playboy Mansion hot tub – champagne flute in hand.

There were, perhaps, a few unresolved areas of Brandt’s effort. One that comes to mind was his abrupt dismissal – about midway through - of the efforts to lower tar delivery in cigarettes through different blends and the addition of filters. About 150 pages later, however, he states that the level of tar delivery had been dramatically reduced since the 1950s, and that the filter was the primary reason. If tar is indeed the most carcinogenic feature of the “coffin nail,” then – to be grossly politically incorrect – might we scientifically say that my smokes are indeed a bit “safer” than the filter-less Chesterfields that killed Arthur Godfrey? Yeah, yeah, “there are no safe cigarettes” but if an automaker can claim a “safe car” – one in which a dozen children likely meet their end annually – can’t there be some statistical discussion about these aspects? I was pleased to see at least a quote that attempts to quantify the smoking-related death rate roughly in relation to life expectancy (about 2/5ths of the fatalities before age 70 anyway), but these are merely the rants of an idiot smoker…

The story concludes with the more recent pursuits of the big guys shoving their way into developing countries. That’s likely the main tobacco story for the next hundred years. Well, that and the story about just where our hopelessly insolvent governments will locate their next teat, assuming domestic smoking rates continue to decline. $8 Diet Pepsi anyone? At the very least domestic microbrews – my other favorite vice – are gonna get cost prohibitive. ( )
  mjgrogan | May 14, 2009 |
Lies, deceit, unethical PR campaigns, and cover-ups are nothing new, and we know that these disdainful actions are happening right under our noses. And yet, when it all comes out and companies are revealed for their misdeeds, it never ceases to surprise just how low they will go. Probably the most exposed corporate industry, Big Tobacco proves to be one of the most malicious and underhanded. Maybe because they were forced to divulge so much publicly or maybe because of the innate harms and properties of tobacco, this industry stands out as one of the worst when it comes to lying, cheating, and bullying.

One hundred years and fifty years ago, cigarette smoking hardly occurred. In 1900, cigarettes made up 27% of tobacco consumption, and by 1952 they made up 81%. As Brandt repeatedly shows throughout the book, cigarette smoking is more than a fad. The rise in the use of cigarettes and in their social acceptability was manipulatively created by the tobacco industry to lure people to smoke cigarettes. The introduction of cigarettes, their ingratiation into American culture, and the symbolism they evoked spurred cigarette sales and made the tobacco companies extremely wealthy.

At the time of their inception, cigarettes were regarded as unhealthy, odorous, and immoral - a dirty habit. As early as the late 19th century, anti-tobacco advocates crusaded for abstinence and even banning of sales. The tobacco industry, however, slyly fought back mainly in the form of advertisements designed to mislead health debates and glamorize the product. Through these ads, the Hollywood-style glamour and the glitz of smoking cigarettes and doctors' approval were broadcast to the nation. Slowly but surely, the image of smoking cigarettes made a 180 degree turn.

By the 1930s, a debate emerged over smoking and disease. Viewed for years as unhealthy, doctors began to notice specific diseases and their co-occurrence with smokers. Science and medicine at this time was much different than today's. It was not until researchers began to perform both epidemiological and statistical studies that the link between the two began to solidly spring forth in the 1950s. By this time, Big Tobacco had created their own PR department disguised as a "research" organization to study the effects of tobacco in an attempt to combat any theories that smoking caused disease. Their research focused on finding other causes of disease, and they made every attempt to suppress any notion that it was tobacco's fault.

By 1964, the Surgeon General issued a report on smoking and health, definitively stating that tobacco caused disease, and that portion of the scientific/medical controversy was over. What had yet to begin was the uncovering of methodical concealments that the industry performed. Big Tobacco knew that what they were selling was deadly, and they tried as hard as they could to not only keep that information from the public through incited controversy but also to pretend they did not know its deadly nature in the first place, bold-facedly lying to the American people and the government.

So began the public health role in tobacco's history. As individuals began to sue the tobacco companies, legislators were trying to decide how to deal with their knowledge of the harms of tobacco, the role the tobacco industry maintains in commerce and taxes, the addictive nature of nicotine, and the deliberate enshrouding the harms of smoking by the industry. While Big Tobacco has had to shell out billions of dollars to the states and to individuals, most legislation and public health initiatives to curb tobacco has fallen considerably short.

Brandt details the history of tobacco and cigarettes by discussing the social elements essential to smoking, the practices, changes, and ultimate congruities in the medical and scientific professions that managed to tease out truths amid constructed controversy, and the laws - and in many cases the attempted yet failed legislation - that ultimately changed public perceptions about smoking. As a history of medicine and history of science professor, Brandt is specially situated to tell the story of cigarettes in America. This book is not a journalistic treatment, but a tome of information that brings together the myriad parts of history to explain and give perspective on how we view cigarettes and why we view them this way as well as how these views have changed in the last century. It was fascinating reading, accessible, and remarkably thorough.
  Carlie | Jan 19, 2009 |
Read the introduction, so far. I guess it's supposed to be a big hit piece on Big Tobacco. I don't smoke. Never have. Have always known (since the '60s) that cigs are "cancer sticks". Not sure what the big deal is. Anyone dumb enough to start smoking after 1950 has to know the dangers. It's a free country. You can harm yourself however you want.
And I don't buy the second-hand smoke claim.
  kkirkhoff | Dec 26, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465070477, Hardcover)

The invention of mass marketing led to cigarettes being emblazoned in advertising and film, deeply tied to modern notions of glamour and sex appeal. It is hard to find a photo of Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall without a cigarette. No product has been so heavily promoted or has become so deeply entrenched in American consciousness.And no product has received such sustained scientific scrutiny. The development of new medical knowledge demonstrating the dire harms of smoking ultimately shaped the evolution of evidence-based medicine. In response, the tobacco industry engineered a campaign of scientific disinformation seeking to delay, disrupt, and suppress these studies. Using a massive archive of previously secret documents, historian Allan Brandt shows how the industry pioneered these campaigns, particularly using special interest lobbying and largesse to elude regulation.But even as the cultural dominance of the cigarette has waned and consumption has fallen dramatically in the U.S., Big Tobacco remains securely positioned to expand into new global markets. The implications for the future are vast: 100 million people died of smoking-related diseases in the 20th century; in the next 100 years, we expect 1 billion deaths worldwide.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:38 -0400)

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An expose of the tobacco industry discusses the cultural, political, scientific, and legal aspects of cigarette smoking in modern America.

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