17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2007
This is an engrossing, exhaustively researched, and very entertaining history of the culture, science, politics and law of the cigarette. While I knew that cigarettes were deadly, the persistence noted in the subtitle caught my eye. While I often think that "no one" smokes anymore, I was shocked to find out that over 400,000 Americans die from cigarettes each year! The figures about globalization and the massive death toll of cigarettes were even more astonishing and dismal.
Brandt's examination of the promotional tactics employed by the industry was particularly interesting. It is easy to forget that the Marlboro Man is not a natural American icon, but the product of an aggressive and highly calculated advertising campaign. I was reminded, too, of the disproportionate number of cigarette and alcohol advertisements in the inner city of Chicago--Brandt's analysis of the industry's interest in racial and ethnic minorities put this in an unfortunate context. One can only hope that policymakers pay attention to Brandt's findings. (Be sure to read the epilogue for an interesting and timely mention of tobacco in current politics.)
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in history, medicine, science, politics; in short, for anyone interested in understanding more about our past, present and future.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2007
Allan Brandt's new book, "The Cigarette Century", is as comprehensive a study on one subject as I've seen in a long time. Written crisply and authoritatively, Brandt covers the tobacco industry from the end of the nineteenth century through today with cigarettes as his main focus. What he has researched, uncovered and passed onto the reader in an expansive (yet truly condensed) form is terrific. His book is a blockbuster.
Cigarettes have been around for a long while in the United States but not until James Bonsack's rolling machine came into play in 1881 (churning out 200 cigarettes per minute) could they be distributed on a wide-scale basis. It wasn't until World War I, however, that the national demand for the product really took off, and did it ever! Brandt's book is a parallel study of American sociological history of the twentieth century as cigarettes have been at the center of so much of our cultural life. Women began smoking in earnest in the 1920s and Hollywood added its own weight with countless movie stars puffing away in countless films to remind the public of the "joys" of smoking. Advertisements abounded and cigarettes were here to stay.
Along came the 1950s and things began to change. This is where Brandt's book really takes off as he begins to shape the "controversy" between the industry and those determined to warn Americans of the risks of smoking. The Surgeon General's report of 1964 declaring smoking to be hazardous to one's health (later packaging warnings reminded the smoker of the same) was a big first step as the public was beginning to question the safety of cigarettes. While more and more research on the dangers of cigarette smoking was made public, the tobacco companies fought tooth and nail to assure Americans that all was well. Lawsuits began to be filed on an increasing level yet the industry was always one step ahead of its detractors. Tobacco companies insisted that safety was a primary concern, but being "remarkably effective in resisting serious health initiatives", they were not. Brandt concludes "we now know a good deal about how this goal was achieved: a careful mixture of reassurance, half-truths, innovative public relations, disinformation, and deception." Calling their actions "the crime of the century", (the title of his epilogue) the author has, by this point, made a careful and compelling argument for that chapter's title.
In my lifetime there have been three major social changes that I've noticed, one being that there are many fewer smokers today in the United States than when I was being raised. Yet, as Brandt points out, tobacco companies learned that if they can't sell as many cigarettes at home they'll export them...with no regard to the health of other nations' citizens. The industry seems to be winning again at the expense of those whose health fails after using their product, creating a pandemic just under the radar screen.
I highly recommend Allan Brandt's "The Cigarette Century". It's an eye-opener, extremely well-written and well-paced, and will either give you a new angle at which to look at cigarettes or reinforce the thoughts you may have had already. I think it is one of the best books of the year.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2007
This is an excellent book, and not just about cigarettes. As evidence of the "persistence" part of the title, candy-flavored cigarettes have a clear target market (<18 year-old). RJ Reynolds agreed in 2006 *not* to call them luscious names like "Twista Lime", "Mandarin Mint" ... but they can still *sell* them.
So, 40+ years after "The Surgeon General has determined..." in 1964, this is still an issue. SG Luther Terry's political skillfulness in getting that report to happen added him to my list of heroes.
This book is much more widely applicable, because it ably chronicles distortion and obfuscation of science by economic and political interests.
Some kinds of scientific proof depend on long efforts to accumulate evidence, need good statistical analysis. Such are not amenable to simple lab experiments, and even when they are, may well not be ethical. ("Here: try this: we want to see if you get cancer" is properly not done.) Topics whose science is of this sort can be prone to long, drawn-out fights, especially when the scientific results threaten strong interests whose best approach is controversy and confusion.
The conflicts over sulfates:acid rain and CFCs:ozone depletion resemble smoking:disease, but the clearest parallel with the latter is the battle over CO2: human-induced global warming.
In both cases, there were:
A) people who believed something (and sometimes exaggerated) well in advance of the science (anti-tobacco moralists, global warming alarmists), and sometimes irritated others by their stridency.
B) people who had economic interests (tobacco companies, oil companies), who took very strong (but opposing) positions. These were sometimes joined by people with ideological reasons for minimizing government regulation.
C) Scientists, who take years to collect good evidence, are careful in their conclusions, but who struggle to be heard though masses of disinformation generated by B), and sometimes wince at exaggerations from A), even as scientific results starts to approach A)'s views.
In both cases, industry funded think-tanks, lobbyists, and a tiny handful of scientists to cast doubt on the science, using similar tactics, and often, employed by the same organizations and people.
As a result Brandt's book is a dandy case study on the twisty interactions of science, economics, and politics, and its lessons may help us analyze other contentious issues as well.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2007
Anyone who doubts the veracity of Brandt's title should revisit the local Piggly Wiggly -- Post, Maxwell House, Nabisco, Kraft, and Oscar Mayer are only a few of the trademarks currently owned by the parent company of Philip Morris. This is a much-needed and painstakingly researched book, and Brandt's credentials make him a highly qualified author. As other reviews have stated, if you're not changing your bologna's name to a four-letter word now, you will after reading a few chapters.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2007
Picked this up after seeing the author on Book TV, and very glad I did.
The (well-told) stories in here will enrage you--what dirty dealers the cigarette industry employs! I only wish that the book had included some of the stories about banning smoking in movies, which seems to be the hot new topic, at least in CA. (Though probably *too* new, even for a just-published book.)
One of the best books I've read this year.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2007
Read this book. Read this book if you wish to be an educated citizen. Brandt provides a well thought out discussion of the collision between cigarettes and our consumer culture. I found that the "behind the scenes" look at the activities of a major industy left me with questions about other industries, such as autos and drugs. Perhaps Ralph Nader needs to update "Unsafe at Any Speed". Hopefully Mr. Brandt will write a follow up with more of the details of how Congress was unable to control the cigarette industry.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2011
This is a comprehensive story of the cigarette, big tobacco, tobacco research, public opinion and public policy. It's a hefty book, at 500 plus pages, but it was all interesting and readable. One thing I took away from reading this is how big tobacco could not have gotten away with selling their dealy product without the collusion of the congressmen it bought. It also shows tobacco company executives at their most ridiculous when they repeatedly said there was "no proof" that cigarettes cause cancer, even after there was no doubt.
I'll keep this book as a reference.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2009
Smoking has become a part of American culture, affecting daily life, legal; matters and policies alike. THE CIGARETTE CENTURY offers a history of how the product came to permeate the culture, offering medical history that crosses over well into general social history. Both high school and college-level libraries strong in medical and social history will find THE CIGARETTE CENTURY an excellent pick, perfect for classroom discussion.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2007
I recently picked up this book and wondered if it would be just another pretty cover. What I found was a thorough and eye-opening account of the tobacco industry. I highly recommend this book to history buffs or anyone who is interested in learning about a product that defined this century.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2011
Harvard medical school professor Allan Brandt has written a history of the tobacco industry, focusing on the twentieth century and the United States. The first pages have some material relating to the earlier history of tobacco, and the final chapter is devoted to international developments, in particular the treaty on tobacco control developed by the World Health Organization. The epilogue is about his experience as an expert witness for the federal government in case against the industry.
At the start of the twentieth century, only a tiny proportion of those who used tobacco smoked cigarettes. Chewing tobacco was the most common use, followed by cigars and pipes. The rise in cigarette smoking greatly increased overall tobacco use while making cigarette use the most common way of consuming tobacco. As different cigarette brands are hard to distinguish from one another in blind "taste" tests, the manufactuers worked hard through advertising and promotions to develop brand loyalty. Later in the century they would adjust the content of the addictive chemical, nicotine, for the same reason. James Duke of the American Tobacco company was the first major adopter of the Bonsack machine, which made it possible in the late nineteenth century to mechanically produce cigarettes of similar quality to hand-produced cigarettes. The resulting plethora of cigarettes on Duke's hands pushed him to develop extensive marketing and advertising to sell his now abundant product. During the early 1900s Duke worked to develop a near monopoly on the United States market, by forming the American Tobacco Trust through acquisitions and cross-ownership. The trust was broken up in one of the earliest applications of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Despite his efforts, it was not until a little later, roughly during World War One, that cigarette smoking became ubiquitous.
For the next several decades, marketing was the core operation of a tobacco industry in which cigarettes were the most important revenue source. Marketing efforts were designed both to expand the market, such as by encouraging women to smoke, and to promote brand loyalty. The horrors of price competition were successfully avoided.
Shortly after World War Two, evidence linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer emerged from case control studies comparing those with lung cancer with otherwise similar individuals who did not suffer from the disease. The industry dealt with this problem by taking the stance that the evidence was not sufficient, by calling for further research, and by funding research on cancer (so as to look like responsible actors), while making sure such research did not focus directly on lung cancer. There was legitimate controversy over the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer in the 1950s, but as the decade went on, the most of the doubters tended to be the people who accepted industry money. The industry's main scientific spokesman was Clarence Cook Little, a geneticist who became scientific director of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee. Little, who had previously been associated with the American Cancer Society, believed (and this belief pre-dated his position with the committee) that cancer was a strictly genetic disease that had nothing to do with environmental influences. The industry's stance on smoking and cancer was highly successful for decades, yet suffered from the disadvantage of locking it into a strait jacket. For example, efforts within the industry to develop less harmful cigarettes, or even self-extinguishing cigarettes to reduce fires, were always eventually suppressed by the industry lawyers because to carry out such research of course cast doubt on the notion that the risks of cigarette smoking were unproven.
The industry dealt skillfully with efforts to regulate it that began in the 1960s. The firms succeeded in making the first warning labels as bland as possible, got Congress to prevent regulatory agencies from taking any independent actions, and delayed the regulation of advertising. For many decades the industry also won repeatedly in court. Starting in the 1980s, embarrassing revelations came out through the discovery process in legal proceedings, without immediately causing the industry to lose cases. Even the huge settlements with the attorneys general of many states in the 1990s resulted in little more than, in effect, increased excise taxes on cigarettes (passed on to the consumers), while having the advantage of getting the states to take the company side in any litigation that might threaten the payments to the states.
Although generally clear, the author's prose sometimes reflects the unfortunate traits of an academic who mostly writes for other academics. Words such as "reified" and "objectified" make their appearance in paragraphs that add little to the reader's understanding. He also pussyfoots around the issue of how responsible smokers are for their own fate. If I correctly infer that Brandt believes them to have diminished responsibilty, I would say that he could have made his case better. In particular, more material about the nature of addiction, different definitions of addiction, and the degree to which nicotine is addictive (some comparisons with other drugs would be helpful here) are all called for. Still, I generally liked the book and found it interesting.
I published a very similar review on goodreads.com.