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The Cigarette: A Political History Hardcover – Illustrated, October 2, 2019
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Finalist for the Hagley Prize in Business History
A Smithsonian Book of the Year
“Vaping gets all the attention now, but Milov’s thorough study reminds us that smoking has always intersected with the government, for better or worse.”―New York Times Book Review
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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“An impressive work of scholarship evincing years of spadework…A well-told story. Milov has an eye for detail.”―Wall Street Journal
“Milov offers insights into the way tobacco companies and their lobbyists exploited America’s federal system to slow down and weaken efforts to cut cigarette use despite growing evidence of the harm it causes…If you are looking for a case study in how regulation and politics shape the US consumer market, The Cigarette more than meets the bill.”―Financial Times
“A nuanced and ultimately devastating indictment of government complicity with the worst excesses of American capitalism. The Cigarette looks beyond individual consumers and their choices and aims its penetrating gaze straight at the larger phenomena shaping all of our lives: the exigencies of war, the rise of organized interest groups, the fall of government regulators, and the immense, unseen influence of big business.”―Scott W. Stern, New Republic
“If you want to know what the smoke-filled rooms of midcentury America were really like, this is the book to read…Many readers will find Milov’s treatment of the anti-smoking movement most relevant for understanding political struggles today.”―Los Angeles Review of Books
“The story of smoking in the United States is usually presented as a struggle between heroic scientists and activists on the one hand, fighting to get the truth out to the public, and mendacious tobacco industry executives on the other, manipulating members of Congress…Milov provides a more interesting and complicated account.”―Jackson Lears, London Review of Books
“Milov manages to bring fresh insight into how the industry’s power hooked government treasuries, the advertising business and scientists for hire, to trump public health for so long…What Milov adds is a nuanced account of the interplay between corporate machinations and government support for the industry from the 1930s until very recently.”―Nature
“Cigarettes were widely considered gross and disreputable at the beginning of the 20th century; by the end, they were on their way out of widespread public acceptability once more. In between, they were ubiquitous. The politics of that arc are the subject of [this] fascinating new work of history.”―Jezebel
“Whether you had thoughts on Stranger Things’ smoking scenes or just got back from your Juul break, read Milov’s book about the history of the cigarette…If the movie Yesterday questioned a world without cigarettes (and The Beatles), this book will make you realize just how different a world that would have been.”―Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29
“Deftly connects the rise in organized opponents to smoking to food safety, car safety and other consumer rights movements of the 20th century.”―Smithsonian
“Groundbreaking…Milov intricately unpacks the workings of the tobacco industry in its interactions with farmers, laborers and social movements, a hitherto underexplored area in the history of tobacco in America…Shows us the ubiquity of tobacco in American society, and its central place in the arc of American political and social consciousness.”―Adhip Amin, LSE Review of Books
“Mixes big-picture academic theory with fascinating, specific details to illuminate the rise and fall of tobacco production…A fine history.”―Kirkus Reviews
“Milov provides a thoughtful and penetrating analysis of both the tobacco industry and its relationship to government.”―Library Journal (starred review)
“A revisionist history of tobacco that, at its core, is an indication of the power of civic activism…A fascinating book on a quintessential American product…Above all, this is an important book on the politics and power of citizen activism against industry doubt-mongering and government regulation that worked against citizens’ best interests.”―Jaipreet Virdi, Nursing Clio
“[An] intriguing history of the American cigarette.”―Talha Khan Burki, The Lancet
“Breathtaking…Weaves together legal, political, and economic history in a manner that calls for a revaluation of the dimensions of twentieth-century liberalism and the nature of its decline. The book is a compelling exercise in historical synecdoche: its subject is the political history of the cigarette, but its story is that of the twentieth-century American state…Milov recounts this fascinating history with lucid prose and narrative verve.”―Reuel Schiller, Jotwell
“Sarah Milov’s The Cigarette offers critical new insights into the relationship of American politics to the tobacco industry as it grew by leaps and bounds through the twentieth century. Deeply researched and lucidly argued, this book is essential reading as new electronic cigarettes test historical approaches for regulating the massive harms of smoking.”―Allan Brandt, author of The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America
“The America of ‘no smoking in public places’ didn’t just happen. With deep, careful research, Milov reveals its long, fascinating history as a high-stakes game with contesting actors. And her story is even bigger than cigarettes; the battle over smoking takes us to all the hot spots of the nation’s twentieth-century political economy. The Cigarette is an impressive achievement.”―Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America
“The Cigarette is a subtle, well-researched story whose findings speak in fresh and often surprising ways to central tensions of twentieth-century politics. With a fine sense of irony, Milov reveals how leading advocates of ‘free enterprise’ depended on tax-funded price supports and quotas that benefited big white growers. A marvelous contribution to American business and political history.”―Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
“By bringing together the histories of not only tobacco companies, but also farmers, state officials, smokers, and nonsmokers, Milov provides a new way to understand American political economy and its history. A brilliant and original book.”―Jonathan Levy, author of Freaks of Fortune
“The Cigarette is a compelling and eye-opening book. But it is not what you might expect. Historian Sarah Milov doesn’t retrace the familiar story of Big Tobacco and its back room dealing and deceit. Sure, that stuff is here, but this book is bigger and bolder. Based on exhaustive research, it shows how the cigarette―both as a product and an idea―was central to the building and tearing down of American political institutions and legal thinking in the twentieth century. This book recounts how domestic and foreign policy representatives encouraged people to smoke at home and abroad, how tobacco farmers gave shape to fundamental New Deal notions of statecraft, how nonsmokers emerged as a powerful voice and remade ideas of citizenship and public space, and really, how you can’t understand the American past without understanding the role of the cigarette in it. As Milov guides readers through this exciting and often unexpected history, she introduces them to an amazing cast of characters―from denim-clad North Carolina farmers and the bow-tie wearing C. Everett Koop to Donna Shimp, the crusading New Jersey office worker who zeroed in on the cost factors of smoking and brought the very first lawsuit by an employee against an employer’s smoking policies. This is a history of politics and big ideas and changes that still has people in it. Pulling all of this together into one book is a testament to Milov’s storytelling skills and powerful historical imagination.”―Bryant Simon, author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks
“Adds much to understanding the role cigarettes played in US history over the last century.”―Choice
“A brilliant and beautiful book about a dark and smoky chapter in American history…A masterful book penned by a talented historian. Milov takes a story we think we know and shows how messy the politics of anti-smoking really was in the United States.”―Bart Elmore, Journal of Arizona History
About the Author
- Publisher : Harvard University Press; Illustrated edition (October 2, 2019)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0674241215
- ISBN-13 : 978-0674241213
- Item Weight : 1.5 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #715,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Milov starts with early tobacco industrialization, but really brings home her point when talking about the New Deal - this is where the political action really starts, with one of the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Act) and how the tobacco subsidies started.
Deftly maneuvering through the course of the 20th century, Milov helps the reader to understand how big tobacco and big politics mixed to create the America we saw in the 1980s and into the 90s. She sprinkles in legal cases to help make her point about tobacco becoming mainstream political fodder during the course of the 20th century. By explaining how "non smokers" rights came to be, she provides the reader with plenty of examples of how politics played a huge role in the growth of the tobacco industry.
Although we don't yet know what the future of tobacco will be, we know that a much smaller percentage of Americans smoke today than did 75 years ago. We also know that all the money that the big cigarette manufacturers started paying out after the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement has not yet been dedicated largely to the intended purpose of smoking cessation, thus opening the door for the comeback of the cigarette.
The book starts in medias res, with the release of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health in January of 1964, which marked the peak for the cigarette. This is but a flourish. The history is then mercifully told in chronological order.
First you find about how the American Tobacco Company came to dominate its field, establishing a trust as powerful as anything JP Morgan or the Rockefellers ever dreamt of, then (a bit) about the challenge cigarettes faced alongside alcohol from prohibitionists, then about how WWI saved the tobacco industry when cigarettes were included in soldiers’ rations and from there you’re ushered to the main topic and theme of this book, the relationship between the New Deal, the institutions of the New Deal and the cigarette industry: the Iron Triangle of 1. growers and manufacturers (the Tobacco Industry) who provided the votes and campaign contributions 2. Congress, which enacted the necessary legislation and 3. The Bureaucracy that actually made the rules.
You find out about the system that was built around the allotments, which became the same thing as a taxi medallion, government-organised price support cartel with its annual referendum, the creation of an international market for American flue-cured tobacco through heavy government intervention and the Marshall Plan. If acronyms of agencies is your thing, you’ve come to the right place. Same if you want an understanding of how politics and business were lumped together during the early days of the Cold War.
This dance does get brutally interrupted when cigarettes turn out to be deadly and the book morphs into the story of how it all slowly comes apart. From there you get to know Hill and Knowlton and Jesse Helms, John Banzhaf’s ASH, Clara Gouin’s GASP and nonsmokers’ rights, but also C. Everett Koop, an unlikely crusader against the cigarette.
And then, disappointingly, you fast-forward to the settlement with the States. It’s a bit weird, because the amounts concerned make a huge leap from 50 million to 200 billion and it’s clear you’ve missed many episodes. Read this on the plane, chiefly, but I’m pretty sure something happened here and the book was rushed to print.
Still, reasonably good and the jacket will never be topped. I always kept a bookmark sticking out the top.
PS. 5 stars because 1 star probably would not get posted.