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The Cigarette: A Political History

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The untold political story of the most controversial consumer product in American history. Tobacco is the quintessential American product. From Jamestown to the Marlboro Man, the plant occupied the heart of the nation's economy and expressed its enduring myths. But today smoking rates have declined and smokers are exiled from many public spaces. The story of tobacco's The untold political story of the most controversial consumer product in American history. Tobacco is the quintessential American product. From Jamestown to the Marlboro Man, the plant occupied the heart of the nation's economy and expressed its enduring myths. But today smoking rates have declined and smokers are exiled from many public spaces. The story of tobacco's fortunes may seem straightforward: science triumphed over our addictive habits and the cynical machinations of tobacco executives. Yet the reality is more complicated. Both the cigarette's popularity and its eventual decline reflect a parallel course of shifting political priorities. The tobacco industry flourished with the help of the state, but it was the concerted efforts of citizen nonsmokers who organized to fight for their right to clean air that led to its undoing. After the Great Depression, public officials and organized tobacco farmers worked together to ensure that the government's regulatory muscle was more often deployed to promote tobacco than to protect the public from its harms. Even as evidence of the cigarette's connection to cancer grew, medical experts could not convince officials to change their stance. What turned the tide, Sarah Milov argues, was a new kind of politics: a movement for nonsmokers' rights. Activists and public-interest lawyers took to the courts, the streets, city councils, and boardrooms to argue for smoke-free workplaces and allied with scientists to lobby elected officials. The Cigarette restores politics to its rightful place in the tale of tobacco's rise and fall, illustrating America's continuing battles over corporate influence, individual responsibility, collective choice, and the scope of governmental power.


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The untold political story of the most controversial consumer product in American history. Tobacco is the quintessential American product. From Jamestown to the Marlboro Man, the plant occupied the heart of the nation's economy and expressed its enduring myths. But today smoking rates have declined and smokers are exiled from many public spaces. The story of tobacco's The untold political story of the most controversial consumer product in American history. Tobacco is the quintessential American product. From Jamestown to the Marlboro Man, the plant occupied the heart of the nation's economy and expressed its enduring myths. But today smoking rates have declined and smokers are exiled from many public spaces. The story of tobacco's fortunes may seem straightforward: science triumphed over our addictive habits and the cynical machinations of tobacco executives. Yet the reality is more complicated. Both the cigarette's popularity and its eventual decline reflect a parallel course of shifting political priorities. The tobacco industry flourished with the help of the state, but it was the concerted efforts of citizen nonsmokers who organized to fight for their right to clean air that led to its undoing. After the Great Depression, public officials and organized tobacco farmers worked together to ensure that the government's regulatory muscle was more often deployed to promote tobacco than to protect the public from its harms. Even as evidence of the cigarette's connection to cancer grew, medical experts could not convince officials to change their stance. What turned the tide, Sarah Milov argues, was a new kind of politics: a movement for nonsmokers' rights. Activists and public-interest lawyers took to the courts, the streets, city councils, and boardrooms to argue for smoke-free workplaces and allied with scientists to lobby elected officials. The Cigarette restores politics to its rightful place in the tale of tobacco's rise and fall, illustrating America's continuing battles over corporate influence, individual responsibility, collective choice, and the scope of governmental power.

53 review for The Cigarette: A Political History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Schulof

    An excellent social, legal, regulatory, and political history of cigarette smoking, with a focus on the significance of the "non-smoker" as a discrete constituent and political actor. Very well done -- both tightly written and deeply researched.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    Cigarettes were central to American political institutions. The United States government encouraged people to smoke. Doubt is our product. From the mid 1950's until 1998 the Tobacco Industry research Committee spent more than 300 million on "smoking and health research". This was a decades long conspiracy to publicly deny what they privately admitted: that cigarettes were deadly and addictive. In 1967, seven of the top ten products advertised on television were cigarettes. Government bureaucracies Cigarettes were central to American political institutions. The United States government encouraged people to smoke. Doubt is our product. From the mid 1950's until 1998 the Tobacco Industry research Committee spent more than 300 million on "smoking and health research". This was a decades long conspiracy to publicly deny what they privately admitted: that cigarettes were deadly and addictive. In 1967, seven of the top ten products advertised on television were cigarettes. Government bureaucracies worked hand in hand with agricultural interest organization making the 20th century the cigarette century. More people die every year from tobacco related diseases than murder, suicides, alcohol, automobile accidents and AIDS combined.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I initially heard about this book because there was a bit of a scandal when it came out that a podcast had been based almost entirely on Milov's work, but she wasn't credited anywhere. Hopefully she ended up gaining some readers since the coverage of the omission probably reached more people than the original podcast would have. Milov begins with a press conference announcing the surgeon general's warning, but then goes back to the 19th century, outlining the tobacco industry prior to the rise I initially heard about this book because there was a bit of a scandal when it came out that a podcast had been based almost entirely on Milov's work, but she wasn't credited anywhere. Hopefully she ended up gaining some readers since the coverage of the omission probably reached more people than the original podcast would have. Milov begins with a press conference announcing the surgeon general's warning, but then goes back to the 19th century, outlining the tobacco industry prior to the rise of large tobacco conglomerations and mass production of cigarettes, particularly the relationship between small growers and tobacco companies. She charts how the U.S. government's inclusion of tobacco and rolling papers during WWI and cigarettes during WII created a demand for cigarettes that hadn't existed before and how the market for American tobacco expanded internationally as well. She also traces the origin of the allotment system that began in the 1930s during the New Deal era as a means of stabilizing the price of tobacco by restricting supply and guaranteeing allotment holders a steady income. This policy was not ended UNTIL 2005 (!) when American growers were forced to compete with the free market, leading to the end of communities organized around small scale tobacco growing that had persisted into the 21st century. In the post-surgeon general's warning decades, she discusses the origins and battles of the anti-smoking movement. Her thesis is that the creation of the identity of "non-smoker" allowed people to mobilize and start insisting on smoke free public spaces and work spaces. The non-smoker movement, despite lobbying from the tobacco industry, was able to reframe the discussion even though scientific support for cancer from second-hand smoke would come out much later than the studies showing harm to smokers. As someone born in 1989, it's interesting for me to hear about the ways that cigarette smoking was ubiquitous. I do remember when bars and bowling alleys were always smokey but it seems unthinkable today that people smoked in their offices or that tobacco companies tried to deny for so long the dangers of smoking and of second-hand smoke. Milov's analysis is intersectional. She discusses how the allotment system was implemented in such a way to benefit white farmers, how women were leaders of the non-smoking movement, how the non-smoking movement in public spaces and workplaces often divided along gender lines, and how non-smoking ordinances and were favored by middle and upper class people and tended to be enforced against the poor and minorities. She also discusses how the non-smoker movement co-opted the language of the civil rights movement and other minority movements. As a lawyer, I appreciated that she laid out the relevant legal issues instead of glossing over the substance of the legal obstacles and relevant precedent encountered by those who sought to change things through the courts and regulatory enforcement. The tone of this book is very straightforward and unsentimental. I recently read And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic about the governmental, political, and social mobilization (or lack thereof) in response to the AIDS epidemic. The author of that book included a lot of stories about individuals with HIV/AIDS and their friends, family and significant others which was emotionally moving but also overwhelming at times. In contrast, although she acknowledges the health problems caused by tobacco throughout, Milov does not feature a sketch of any individual with lung cancer until well into the book--a TV actor featured on an anti-smoking commercial. That section was one of the most memorable to me and also brought into focus the importance of the contents of rest of the book. Maybe Milov didn't feel the need to spend much time putting a human face on the suffering caused by tobacco, or didn't feel like she needed to explain the humanity of its victims like Randy Shilts did.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Katie Beswick

    Fascinating account of the history of cigarette smoking, focussing on the rise and demise of flue cured tobacco in the twentieth century through the lens of the political struggle. It is an academic book, and assumes a certain amount of prior knowledge on the part of the reader, still is compelling and enjoyable.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Shuherk

    Spends too much time on things that are rather boring and too little time on the past 30 years (basically just 8-10 pages of the conclusion) Also could’ve been better organized. 7 chapters is not at all my preference for 300 page history books

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    338.4767 M661 2019

  7. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Cosgrove

    While I'm glad I read this book and learned a lot, the author's writing style was difficult for me to read and I found it to be repetitive. I struggled to get through the book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    I kinda miss being forced to shower after an evening out at a bar. Those were fine days. But seriously, the cover alone on this book should make you want to read it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lucas Rizoli

    More accurately, “The Cigarette in the 20th Century: An American Political History.” While not as broad in scope nor in geography as I would have liked—and known if I’d read the description more carefully—I felt like I learned quite a lot from this book. Though US-centric, I thought it worthwhile; not sure if its insights are its own or simply new to me, but I liked to consider aspects of its history like government by partly-private associations, the complicated decisions further complicated by More accurately, “The Cigarette in the 20th Century: An American Political History.” While not as broad in scope nor in geography as I would have liked—and known if I’d read the description more carefully—I felt like I learned quite a lot from this book. Though US-centric, I thought it worthwhile; not sure if its insights are its own or simply new to me, but I liked to consider aspects of its history like government by partly-private associations, the complicated decisions further complicated by party philosophies, money, changing expectations of policy and health and etc.

  10. 4 out of 5

    BA Klapper

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kindall

  12. 5 out of 5

    Hubert

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    Wendi

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    Diana

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    Katherine Lavelle

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    Daniel Lima

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    Tyler

  20. 5 out of 5

    Penn Whaling

  21. 4 out of 5

    Miguel

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    Chris

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    Larry

  24. 4 out of 5

    Allofmilov

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  26. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

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    Shivaprakash

  28. 5 out of 5

    TK421

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    Vince Cima

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    Becca Modiano

  40. 4 out of 5

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    Robert Young

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  48. 5 out of 5

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  50. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Wood

  51. 4 out of 5

    Danny Cooper

  52. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Lindsay

  53. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette Richardson

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