Cigarettes: Anatomy of an Industry from Seed to Smoke

Cigarettes: Anatomy of an Industry from Seed to Smoke

by Tara Parker-Pope
Cigarettes chronicles the controversies of a 350-billion-dollar industry, telling the fast-paced business story of cigarettes—from seed to smoke—that surprises as it entertains. In a book Publishers Weekly calls "an absorbing and informative history of cigarettes," Parker-Pope provides "up-to-date coverage of the recent tobacco industry


Cigarettes chronicles the controversies of a 350-billion-dollar industry, telling the fast-paced business story of cigarettes—from seed to smoke—that surprises as it entertains. In a book Publishers Weekly calls "an absorbing and informative history of cigarettes," Parker-Pope provides "up-to-date coverage of the recent tobacco industry litigation [that] is not only concise and accessible, but illuminating." The author, who follows the tobacco industry for the Wall Street Journal, offers a unique spin on a much-covered topic, examining the commercial aspect of an industry that became the biggest business success story of the twentieth century.

Author Biography: Tara Parker-Pope, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal since 1993, lives in New York City.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
[A] useful guide to the world's most lethal legal industry.
Wall Street Journal
Traces the human fascination with tobacco...using anecdotes, court documents and scientific studies.
Portland Tribune
An excellent tour of the tobacco industry.... graceful, often appropriately tongue-in-cheek and a pleasure to read.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Observing that "the cigarette is the only consumer product that, when used as the manufacturer has intended, can be deadly," Wall Street Journal reporter Parker-Pope writes an absorbing and informative history of cigarettes, addressing why we start smoking, why we continue and what it costs us, while simultaneously charting the growth of an industry that boasts profit margins as high as 40% to 50%. With its extraordinary profits, low-cost product and loyal and expandable customer base, the cigarette industry, she claims, is the envy of modern business, though not all industries can hope to manufacture a product that is as addictive. Since nobody naturally craves nicotine, the industry has had to persuade its customers to buy something they don't really need--a conundrum that has been handily resolved with $5 billion worth of seductive advertising that sells $53 billion worth of cigarettes per year in the U.S. alone, according to Parker-Pope. Her up-to-date coverage of the recent tobacco industry litigation is not only concise and accessible, but illuminating about tobacco companies' ability to use the litigation to stay in business, reduce their future liability and increase sales. While business may proceed as usual in the cigarette industry and the ranks of smokers may grow worldwide, Parker-Pope makes certain that her readers cannot ignore that once a person becomes a regular smoker, nicotine becomes such a necessary part of the body's chemistry that only 10% of smokers can successfully quit, that in 1999 smokers spent $730 million on smoke cessation products such as patches and gum, that 3.5 million people worldwide die annually of smoking-related ailments and that Americans spend $50 billion each year on smoking-related health care. Illus. (Feb.) Forecast: Jacketed in an eye-catching cigarette pack design and less intimidating in girth than other recent chronicles of the cigarette industry, this slim and hard-hitting report--part everything-you-needed-to-know-about-cigarettes and part documentary expose--could ride the wave of continuing public concern about cigarette manufacturers and their advertising techniques. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This book has great possibilities, as it draws together the history of tobacco with the story of modern marketing efforts to get people hooked on smoking, the emergence of health issues, and the legal battle over the massive costs of tobacco-related death and disability. Unfortunately, journalist Parker-Pope (Wall Street Journal) attempts all this in 200 pages of breezy prose filled with extraordinarily simplified analysis. Her historical treatment is at best sketchy and sometimes highly suspect. At one point, she comes very close to implying that tobacco was a significant cause of the Revolutionary War. She relies almost exclusively on "tobacco historians" rather than searching more broadly for perspectives on the emergence of tobacco within the larger agricultural economy and society. Cigarettes does have some useful points, including a nice summary of the evolution of the health issue during the 20th century, but the book generally proves to be disjointed and disorganized. Although it never attempts to match Richard Kluger's massive Ashes to Ashes (LJ 6/15/96. o.p.), we still await a brief alternative. Not recommended.--Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Tells the story of the $350 billion tobacco industry, explaining how tobacco leaves are picked, processed, and packaged; describing the origins of some of the biggest brands and companies; revealing the vital roles the federal government, the entertainment industry, and the military have played in cigarettes' success; and putting arguments over cigarettes and public health in historical context. Includes b&w photos and historical illustrations. Parker-Pope is a reporter for the . Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Cigarettes: Anatomy Of An Industry provides an exploration of one of the biggest business successes of the century - this could have been reviewed in our business books section but is included here for its insights on health and economics. From the science of marketing cigarettes to packaging tobacco and government involvement, Cigarettes: Anatomy Of An Industry provides a detailed overview of the industry's growth and connections.
Kirkus Reviews
A journalistic portrait, alternately affectionate and damning, of the world's favorite weed. Parker-Pope admits to having been a social smoker, one who shrugged off the budding habit when she entered her first no-smoking newsroom in the mid-1980s."Most smokers," she writes,"aren't so lucky. Only 10 percent of smokers can take it or leave it. That means 90 percent of the people who use cigarettes are addicts." Her tale of how the cigarette evolved from a staple of the 19th-century proletariat and soldiery to a global business is full of fascinating tidbits. One is the sheer enormity of the industry, which now produces an estimated 5.5 trillion cigarettes each year (or a thousand cigarettes for every person on the planet). At a going price of more than a pack, that adds up to a pile of money, some of which fuels an entire sub-economy of lawyers (18 percent of that price goes to pay the legal bills for recent multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuits against the tobacco companies), and much of which ends up in the coffers of the state (in the form of taxes). The fact that tobacco is now an important source of government revenue, she suggests, is only one reason why cigarettes are not immediately outlawed—smoking is too much a part of modern culture to be so easily uprooted, and"when the smoke clears from the tobacco wars, the last man (or woman) standing may well be a smoker with a cigarette in his (or her) mouth." Parker-Pope is occasionally careless; she attributes the glamorization of smoking among women to one Betty—not Bette—Davis, and her numbers don't always add up. Still, her argument is intriguing, and her study makes a fine light-touchcompaniontoStanton Glantz's monumental Cigarette Papers (1996). Cigarette fans and foes alike will find something useful in these pages.

From the Publisher

"An absorbing and informative history . . . Parker-Pope's up-to-date coverage . . . is not only concise and accessible, but illuminating." —Publishers Weekly

"Full of fascinating tidbits . . . a journalistic portrait, alternately affectionate and damning, of the world's favorite weed." —Kirkus Reviews

"A probing study." —Booklist

Product Details

New Press, The
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Lighting Up:
A Brief History of the Cigarette

* * *

"A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?"


A Smoky New World

The cigarette is the only manufactured product found in almost every corner of the world, and it is recognized—if not used—by virtually every human being on the planet. Certainly no other product is as ubiquitous. Cereal? Razor blades? Chewing gum? Not even Coca-Cola has the global reach of the cigarette. "It's a wonderful product," says Gary Black, a longtime Wall Street tobacco analyst and a former smoker. "If you give someone a cigarette in the most backwards country in the world, they will know what to do with it."

    The world's tobacco companies produce an estimated 5.5 trillion cigarettes each year. That's nearly one thousand cigarettes for every person on the planet, as though every child has received an allotment of fifty packs a year at birth. More than 15 billion cigarettes are sold each day to more than 1.1 billion people puffing away around the world. How did such an eminently simple product—a bunch of crushed leaves wrapped in paper—become such big business?

    Today's smokers have no less than Christopher Columbus to thank for introducing them to the pleasures and hazards of smoking. A South American native in a canoe reportedly gave Columbus some tobacco leaves when hefirst landed in the New World in 1492. Later, explorers spotted the natives smoking from a Y-shaped contraption called a tobaca. It was an early version of the pipe, guaranteed to give users a concentrated hit. The two prongs were put into the nostrils while the end of the pipe was set in burning tobacco leaves. Centuries before modern scientists would debate the addictive nature of tobacco, Columbus had it figured out. Watching his sailors puff away the hours, he noted that "it was not within their power to refrain" from it. Columbus's men took the new plant back to Europe, where for the next 50 years it was a smelly vice of sailors and a curiosity cultivated by botanists.

    But as has often proved the case in the history and business of tobacco, all the plant needed was a little marketing. That came in the guise of French ambassador Jean Nicot and English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. Nicot was a French ambassador to Portugal when he learned of a man who claimed tobacco had cured his chronic skin ulcer. Nicot was soon convinced of the powers of this "Indian herb of marvelous and proved worth against [ailments] given up as incurable by the physicians." In 1560 he sent some tobacco seeds to Catherine de Medici, the queen mother of France, with descriptions of the herb's curative powers. Word spread, and tobacco gained a reputation across Europe as a wonder drug. The plant, whose botanical name is genus Nicotiana in honor of its biggest promoter, launched a new era in medicine. Medical books espoused the curative powers of tobacco for everything from flatulence to rabies, as an antiseptic, and as a cure for headaches. Pity the poor asthmatics of the time—doctors recommended tobacco smoke as the cure. For pearly whites, rub teeth with tobacco ashes. A bad memory? Sixteenth-century physicians suggested tobacco smoke because it "rose to the brain, the seat of recollection." The plague? Smoking, the medical establishment believed, would keep it at bay, prompting widespread smoking during the Great Plague of 1665. During the plague years, boys at England's Eton College were whipped if they tried to skip their daily smoke.

    But if smokers have a patron saint, it is Sir Walter Raleigh, credited as the first to promote smoking for pleasure. Raleigh, a swashbuckling explorer and a favorite of the queen of England, was something of a trendsetter in the fashion-conscious circles of Elizabethan London. And he loved to smoke, picking up the habit from his friend, Thomas Hariot, a surveyor who, during an expedition to North Carolina, had seen Indians smoke the dry and powdered leaves from a clay pipe. "We ourselves tried their way of inhaling the smoke," Hariot wrote in his Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588). The group had "many rare and wonderful proofs of the beneficial effects of this plant, which to relate in detail would require a whole volume to itself."

    Soon, thanks to Raleigh's zealous endorsement, smoking was the rage in late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century England. Imagine how bizarre it must have seemed in the tobacco-as-medicine culture of sixteenth-century England the first time Raleigh lit up, puffing away on his pipe, just for the fun of it. Centuries later, the young American comedian Bob Newhart described the absurdity of it all in his classic comedy routine, Introducing Tobacco to Civilization. The audience hears one side of a conversation between the London-based boss of the West Indies Co., played by Newhart, and Raleigh, who has called to tell him about the discovery of a new plant called tobacco.

"Who is it? Sir Walter Raleigh from the Colonies? Yeah, yeah. Put him on, will you? (Hey, Harry. Pick up on the extension. It's nutty Walt again.)

"Hi, Walt, baby. How are you, guy? What is it this time, Walt? You got another winner for us, do you?

"Toe-back-o? What's tobacco, Walt? It's a kinda leaf. And you bought 80 tons of it. Let me get this straight, now. You bought 80 tons of leaves?

"This may come as kind of a surprise to you, Walt, but come fall in England here, were kind of up to our ... It isn't that kind of leaf, huh?

"What is it? A special food, Walt?

"Not exactly? It has a lot of different uses. What are some of the uses, Walt?

"Are you saying snuff, Walt? What's snuff?

"You take a pinch of tobacco, heh, heh, and you shove it up your nose? Ha, ha, ha. And it makes you sneeze, huh? I imagine it would, Walt, yeah.

"It has some other uses, though? You can chew it? Or put it in a pipe? Or you can shred it up and put it on a piece of paper, and roll it up, heh, heh, heh, and ...

"Don't tell me, Walt. Don't tell me. You, you stick in your ear, right, Walt? Ho, ho, ho, heh, heh, heh ...

Oh! Between your lips! Then what do you do to it, Walt? You
... ha, ha, ha ... you set FIRE to it! And you inhale the smoke."


"Say Walt, were been a little worried about you. Ever since you put your cape down over that mud. Walt, I think you're gonna have a tough time getting people to stick burning leaves in their mouths...."

    Smoking is a strange habit. Nobody really knows how or why man first came up with the idea of setting fire to a batch of brown tobacco leaves and then sucking the acrid smoke down into his lungs. It most likely happened first in the Americas, where the plant originated, and many historians think the use of smoking in religious rituals dates back at least to the Mayan civilization in Central America during the first century B.C. But where they got the idea remains a mystery.

Sparking an Industry

The widespread popularity of tobacco for pleasure as advocated by Raleigh soon gave rise to tobacco as an industry. In the late sixteenth century, Spain, which had funded Columbus's trip to the New World, reaped the spoils of the tobacco discovery and controlled the world tobacco market, cultivating high-quality tobacco plants in its settlements in the West Indies and South America. Although the American colonists had access to their own tobacco leaves, a variety known as Nicotiana rustica, smokers cringed at the bitter taste, preferring instead the sweeter-tasting Nicotiana tobaccum proffered by Spain.

    It was John Rolfe, future husband of Pocahantas and booster of the fledgling Jamestown colony, who came up with the idea to give up on Nicotiana rustica and import some tobacco seeds from the West Indies. The plants flourished in the Virginian soil, and in 1613, the colony sent its first shipment of tobacco to England. It was the first sign that the struggling colony could have commercial importance. The Jamestown colonists were hooked. They planted tobacco in virtually every open space, neglecting food production, home building, and even their water wells as they tended the new cash crop.

    Indeed, for better or worse, tobacco built America. The search by tobacco growers for new fertile land pushed the original boundaries of the colonies to the south and west. Tobacco changed the social fabric of the south, creating large plantations and a ruling class of wealthy land owners, which in turn helped foster a stronger sense of independence among the Southern colonists. The search for cheap labor to tend to the plants fueled the African slave trade long before cotton was king. Tobacco was used to purchase slaves from European traders, and tobacco was even used to bribe Africans to assist the slave traders in rounding up their countrymen. And because the American tobacco trade was so lucrative for the English crown, tobacco played a crucial factor in the American Revolutionary War. After all, from England's perspective, tobacco made the colonies worth fighting for, and the Americans, who, among other reasons, were annoyed that the crown was controlling their tobacco trade, funded the war largely with loans from France, using tobacco as collateral.

    "Tobacco was the dominant element in shaping the social customs, the political and financial systems, the industrial life and the territorial growth of the Southern British colonies," writes tobacco historian Jerome Brooks. "The forces which were set in motion when tobacco was sovereign there affected the governments of Europe and the trade of the world ... and remain powerful factors in the sociological and economic life of the U.S. to our own time.

    Although tobacco use spread rapidly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the cigarette made its debut much later. When the first explorers of the New World arrived, the Native Americans were using tobacco in much the same way it's used today—they chewed it, smoked it in pipes, wrapped it in leaves (like a cigar), or stuffed it in reeds (like a cigarette). Although the use of cigars and miniature tobacco tubes—known in Spanish as papeletes or cigaritos—caught on in Spain and Turkey, most of Europe's smoking culture centered on the pipe for more than two centuries following the discovery of tobacco in the New World. In eighteenth-century France, amidst a fledging antitobacco movement (whose members opposed smoking tobacco, in part, because it was a fire hazard), fashionable tobacco users turned to snuff-powdered tobacco that was pushed into the nose. The use of snuff spread so quickly in Europe that the British literary figure Dr. Samuel Johnson, noting that scores of smokers had abandoned their pipes for snuff boxes, proclaimed, "Smoaking has gone out."

    But smoking hadn't gone out, it just went underground. Snuff was the stuff of the upper class, and half the enjoyment came from the affectations associated with it. With great ceremony, aristocratic snuff users brandished their gilded and lavish snuff boxes before inhaling a pinch of the tobacco powder. But the French Revolution in 1789 put a damper on most aristocratic pursuits, including snuff. The revolutionaries, searching for something to replace the snuff craze, had taken to smoking the cigaritos, which were made from the leftovers of pipe tobacco, cigars, and snuff and were widely viewed as the poor man's cigar. In the early 1800s, smoking returned to western Europe in the form of the cigar after British soldiers returned from the Peninsular War, where they'd picked up cigar smoking from the Spanish and Portuguese.

    Not until the mid-1800s, in the wake of the Crimean War, did smoking fashion turn to the cigarette. British soldiers in the Crimea had picked up the habit of their papelete-smoking allies from France and Turkey. When the soldiers returned to England in 1856, they brought the habit home, and cigarette smoking caught on. One of the earliest businessmen to cash in on the English cigarette craze was a London tobacconist named Philip Morris.

    But it was across the ocean, in the new United States, that the cigarette would become an industry. As Philip Morris was rolling the first English cigarettes, the Americans were engaged in a civil war (1861-65). Tobacco played a significant role in the war, which was partially funded in the South by tobacco revenues and in the north by a tobacco tax. The American Civil War also marked the first time a government (the Confederacy) issued tobacco rations to its soldiers. And just as soldiers fighting in the Crimea introduced England to the cigarette, the mingling of soldiers from the South with soldiers from the North, where the cigarette was just showing up in big cities, aided the spread of the cigarette in the United States.

    Still, for most of the nineteenth century, tobacco users stuck to chewing tobacco or smoking cigars or pipes. The skill needed to make cigarettes limited the growth of the industry. Even the best cigarette rollers could make only about four cigarettes a minute.

    After the Civil War, a former Confederate soldier named Washington Duke had taken what remained of his family farm—a few tobacco leaves—and turned it into a family pipe-tobacco business. At the time the cigarette was still a novel way to enjoy tobacco; the chewing "plug" was the most popular method. But competition from other brands, particularly the Bull Durham brand of plug tobacco, sent Duke searching for a new niche. Washington Duke's oldest son, James Buchanan "Buck" Duke, saw the potential of the cigarette, which, though still a tiny market, was gaining popularity in England and New York. In 1881, he introduced Duke of Durham cigarettes.

    When Buck Duke heard that a Virginian named James Bonsack had patented a cigarette-making machine, he gambled that machine-made cigarettes were the wave of the future. In 1884, after some initial start-up problems, Buck Duke's Bonsack machines were spitting out cigarettes. The machine, which sliced cigarettes from an endless tube of wrapped tobacco, produced 200 cigarettes a minute, and it could make as many cigarettes in a day as 40 hand rollers. The cost savings were huge—just 30 cents for a machine-made cigarette, less than half the 80 cents it cost to make a hand-rolled cigarette. Mass production allowed Duke to undercut his competitors, who initially rejected the idea of machine-made cigarettes, believing smokers preferred the quality of a handmade smoke.

    W. Duke & Sons also was among the first cigarette makers to engage in the promotion and marketing of cigarette brands, a hallmark of the industry today. Duke brands came with collectible cigarette cards with pictures of athletes and actresses as well as coupons to reward customers for bulk purchases. A roller-skating team, dubbed the "Cross Cuts" after one of the company's brands, even toured towns, generating free publicity for Duke brands.

    As Buck Duke's sales increased, so did his ambition to dominate the U.S. and, ultimately, the world cigarette market. He bought out his rivals, including Richard Joshua Reynolds, the founder of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. In 1890, Duke consolidated his empire under the name American Tobacco Co., which controlled 90 percent of the U.S. cigarette business and an estimated two-thirds of the pipe, snuff, and chewing tobacco sales. Nonetheless, the ambitious tobacco man greedily gazed across the Atlantic at the burgeoning cigarette business in Europe.

    In 1901, Duke reportedly scheduled a meeting with more than a dozen of the top tobacco firms in England and brashly introduced himself: "Hello boys. I'm Duke from New York, come to take over your business." To counter the crass American, 13 British companies formed the Imperial Tobacco Co. (Philip Morris, incidentally, didn't join the group, but instead decided to push its own brands in the United States, forming Philip Morris Corp. in New York in 1902.) The formation of Imperial Tobacco resulted in a transatlantic tobacco war, as the two groups began cutting prices and offering bonuses to British tobacco retailers even as the British tobacco giant sought to gain a foothold in the United States. But soon, both sides had had enough. In 1902, Imperial Tobacco and Duke's American Tobacco called a truce, joining together to form the British American Tobacco Co.

    For nearly a decade, the alliance flourished. At the same time, however, Duke's tobacco trust received unwelcome attention in America. A growing antitrust climate, fueled by trust-busting president Theodore Roosevelt, had triggered a backlash against Duke. In the summer of 1907, the Raleigh News and Observer launched a vitriolic attack. "The trust's desires are modest. All it wants is the earth with a barbed wire fence around it."

    In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Duke to dismantle his empire. R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Liggett & Myers, among other tobacco companies, were released from Duke's grasp. Nonetheless, today's tobacco firms owe much of their success to Buck Duke's efforts to modernize the cigarette industry.

Cigarette Culture

While Buck Duke modernized cigarette production, Richard Joshua Reynolds modernized the cigarette. Ironically, cigarettes were the part of the tobacco business Reynolds liked the least. He preferred chewing tobacco and even harbored fears that cigarette smoking was unhealthy. But after laboratory studies assured him the product was safe, Reynolds, newly emancipated from Duke's tobacco trust, set out to capture a share of the cigarette market.

    In 1913, Reynolds came up with the blend of tobaccos that would forever change the cigarette. The blend was modeled after pipe tobacco and contained a mixture of domestic and Turkish leaf as well as some flavoring additives. The result was a distinctive smoke richer than domestic blends and lighter than Turkish varieties.

    But Reynolds's most significant move was his decision to put his efforts behind just one brand, something unheard of at the time. Although about 50 brands dominated the market, the leader was Liggett & Myers' "Fatima," billed as a Turkish blend. With his sights set on Fatima, Reynolds decided he needed a name equally reminiscent of the Orient. He considered the names "Kismet," "Nabob," and "Kamel," but in the end, he chose "Camel." A Barnum & Bailey circus camel named Old Joe served as a photographer's model for the brand, and Reynolds generated excitement for the new smoke with advertisements that exclaimed "The Camels Are Coming." Within a year the new brand had captured 13 percent of the market. But more important, Camels spawned a new age in the cigarette business, in which manufacturers concentrated their sales and promotion efforts behind a few key brands.

    By 1919, a year after the death of Richard Joshua Reynolds, cigarettes were consuming more pounds of tobacco leaf than was pipe tobacco. Three years later it overtook chewing tobacco as the fastest-growing tobacco product. One reason for the shift is that the cigarette was simply better suited to the urban lifestyle of the twentieth century. Chewing tobacco is a messy, dirty habit. Despite the presence of spittoons in public gathering places, spitting in public fell out of fashion as city dwellers began worrying about diseases (like tuberculosis) that came with crowded urban life. Cigars and pipes produced a heavy, smelly odor, and, because they took a while to smoke and often occupied both hands, they were considered leisurely pursuits that didn't fit the hustle and bustle of the industrial age. By contrast, the cigarette was a light and fast smoke, easy to use while working in an office or for a quick fix on break from work at the factory. Per capita consumption more than doubled from 173 smokes a person in 1911 to 395 cigarettes in 1916. But the gains cigarette makers saw in those early years of the cigarette would pale in comparison to what lay ahead, as the drum beats of war promised to introduce legions of new smokers to the cigarette.

    At the height of America's involvement (1917-18) in World War I, American General John J. Pershing sent an urgent cable to Washington, D.C. "You ask me what we need to win this war. I answer tobacco as much as bullets." How could a cigarette be as important to a soldier as his weapon? On the battlefield, a cigarette helps a soldier endure the tedium of war. It can steady nervous hands, calm the wounded, and provide its user with a quick hit of courage. No other tobacco product is as suited to battle as the cigarette. Pipes often require two hands and cigars, because they often need to be re-lighted, are too much of a distraction. The confined space of a foxhole makes chewing tobacco, and the spitting that goes with it, impractical. But the cigarette is compact, relatively clean, and easy to share in the trenches. Moreover, as Richard Klein argued in Cigarettes Are Sublime (1993), it is also spiritually suited to the battlefield:

Cigarettes free the soldier by momentarily masking the cruelty of his condition; their effect is less that of producing a narcotic sensation than of permitting an intellectual stance detached from reality—one that, Janus-like, invites the return of nostalgia or speculates in dreamy anticipation. But cigarettes are more than therapy. It is not enough merely to assert that though bad for health, they provide remedies for ills of the spirit. In fact, cigarettes serve soldiers in other ways, more puzzling and in peacetime less apparent. Consider the enigmatic assertion of General Lasalle (1775-1809), a Napoleonic hero who, before he fell valiantly, at the battle of Wagram, is reputed to have said: "A hussard must smoke; a cavalryman who does not smoke is a bad soldier." What does this mean? The general's claim that there is a link between smoking and being a good soldier is not argued; it is merely asserted, apodictically, like one of those mute Marlboro or Camel advertisements that show only the vivid image of a man clearly accustomed to pitting his strength against the forces of nature.

At times in recent history refusing to smoke was considered anti-American, a rejection of a certain idea—some might call it a myth—of the heroic linked to the pathos of the frontier. By heroism is meant in the strict Hegelian sense, courage in the face of death, looking death in face. When one smokes, one does not merely suck a tit of consolation; cigarette smoke is not always, not often, perhaps never mother's milk—it mostly tastes bad, produces a faint nausea, induces the feeling of dying a little every time one takes a puff. But it is the poison in cigarettes that recommends them to the heroic—a strong poison; it takes an infinitesimally smaller amount of nicotine to kill an adult than it does of, say, heroin or cocaine. In every puff there is a little taste of death, which makes cigarettes the authentic discipline of good soldiers.

    While the cigarette has given comfort to soldiers at war, the very act of war has played a unique role in the spread of tobacco, particularly the cigarette. The Crimean War and the American Civil War aided the spread of the cigarette, and World War I is said to have turned thousands of nonsmoking young men into regular cigarette smokers. Before the war, cigarette smoking was viewed as slightly effeminate. But during World War I, cigarettes "quickly became the universal emblem of the camaraderie of mortal combat, that consummate male activity," writes Richard Kluger in Ashes to Ashes (1997).

    Not only did war introduce scores of young nonsmokers to the tobacco habit, but it also stifled antitobacco efforts, as citizens focused on more weighty matters of national security and the safety of their fathers, sons, and husbands. During World War I, vehement tobacco opponents like the Red Cross and the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) even helped supply cigarettes to soldiers on the battlefield. By 1919, U.S. consumption soared annually to 727 cigarettes for every adult.

    During World War II (1941-45), President Franklin D. Roosevelt legitimized smoking by declaring tobacco an essential wartime crop. Even Army training manuals of the day urged leaders to "smoke and make your troopers smoke." Gen. Douglas MacArthur himself demanded a better supply of tobacco in the soldier's daily ration. He ordered that $10 million raised for the war effort "be used to purchase American cigarettes, which, of all personal comforts, are the most difficult to obtain here."

    For their part, the tobacco companies were happy to oblige, although wartime shortages sometimes made it difficult. During World War I, ingredients such as the artificial sweetener saccharin, which was made from the same substance as an ingredient in TNT, were in short supply. During World War II, the American Tobacco Co., according to company lore, faced a shortage of chromium, which was used to make the green ink in the famous green Lucky Strike label. As a result, the color of the package was changed to white with the slogan "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone To War ... so here's the smart new uniform for fine tobacco." The timing of the ink shortage was fortuitous. Company research had shown that women didn't like the green packaging because it often clashed with their clothes. Winning women smokers to the brand, research showed, would require a more neutral color, such as white.

    But for all the hurdles war imposed on cigarette production, smoking increased dramatically during war years. A study in 1918 found that wartime soldiers use 60 to 70 percent more tobacco than in peacetime. And even civilians at home sought solace in tobacco, smoking 15 to 20 percent more than usual. In 1941, just before the U.S. entry into World War II, Americans smoked annually an average of 2,236 cigarettes each, including the tax-free cigarettes shipped to the armed forces. By 1945, that number had risen 48 percent, to 3,449 [See Fig. 1].

    Harvard anthropologist Dr. Earnest Albert Hooton tried to explain the nation's incessant craving for cigarettes. "The boys in the foxholes, with their lives endangered, are nervous and miserable and want girls. Since they can't have them, they smoke cigarettes. The girls at home, with their virtue not endangered, are nervous and miserable and want boys. Since they can't have them, they too smoke cigarettes."

    While war and the new wave of cigarette advertising and branding solidified the cigarette's survival as an industry, it was in the prosperity of the postwar years that the cigarette became an intrinsic part of contemporary culture. Indeed, cigarettes were well suited to the heady days after the war, when both Americans and Europeans, driven by a sense of entitlement following years of wartime suffering, indulged in cigarettes as a seemingly harmless vice. During the war, Hollywood had propelled this cigarette culture with celluloid images of seductive cigarette smoke spiraling from the lips of screen sirens like Lauren Bacall and Bette Davis. The silver screen helped transform smoking from an enjoyable pastime to a marker of mood and image. Trying to figure out who's the free-spirited hero, the rebel, or the wayward woman? Look for the cigarette.

    By the 1950s, the first news reports that smoking might cause health problems began to appear. But the bad news seemed to enhance, rather than diminish, the cigarette's role in popular culture. The fact that there was growing unease about cigarettes affirmed the cigarette's role as seductive right of passage for rebellious teenagers. The leather-clad, cigarette-smoking outsider, immortalized by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, appealed to a generation that had grown disillusioned with cookie-cutter suburbs and the Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle. Advertisers responded with rugged, adventurous pitchmen like the Marlboro Cowboy in a bid to tap into the cigarette smoker's psyche. "Cigarettes are very bad for you, it is true," notes Cornell professor and author Richard Klein. "But it's only a half truth if it isn't accompanied by the proposition that by being bad, cigarettes are also very good."

    Concerns about the health risks associated with smoking, fueled by the first report on tobacco from the U.S. Surgeon General in 1964, finally began to take a toll on smoking rates in the 1960s and 1970s. But the growing prohibition against smoking wasn't enough to counter the cigarette's image as both a glamorous accoutrement and a rebellious torch. The most glamorous woman of the day, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, was often pictured with cigarette in hand, lending a sense of sophistication and class to the habit.

    And the troubled, antiestablishment tenor of the sixties and seventies seemed custom-made for the smoker's personality. Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to take risks, act defiantly, and rebel against cultural norms than are nonsmokers. Smokers, for instance, are less likely to wear seat belts and more likely to be divorced. They are even said to have higher sex drives. So while government health warnings and growing antitobacco sentiments certainly scared many smokers off the habit, those very prohibitions also served to solidify many smokers' loyalties, partly because the more smoking was vilified, the more rebellious and appealing it seemed. "Smoking has always been somewhat daring and has become much more so since the 1960s," writes David Krogh in Smoking: The Artificial Passion (repr. 1992). "There's a commercially approved way of being daring, and it's called smoking cigarettes."

    More recently, as the tobacco industry has come under increasing attack by politicians, lawyers, and antismoking crusaders, cigarettes have emerged as a torch of individuality, a symbol that its user isn't swayed by political correctness or the hard-bodied health culture of the late twentieth century. As smokers have been pushed out of restaurants and forced to smoke in huddled masses outside office buildings, some avowed smokers say the trend portends a new era of intolerance and despotism. As a result, the very act of smoking now represents a backlash against the sanctimonious tone of the public health crusaders and anyone else who would threaten the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of pleasure. Indeed, antitobacco efforts appear to be fanning the flames of rebellion in some camps—smoking rates among youths began to rise again in the late 1990s, fueling speculation that the cigarette is poised for a resurgence. "Cigarettes calm, they comfort, they give pleasure," writes Donald Gould in the New Scientist. "They act as a kind of stockade, a visible barrier between the naked individual and a hostile perplexing world." [See Fig. 2]

Meet the Author

Tara Parker-Pope has been a reporter for the Wall Street Journal since 1993. Previously, she worked as a government reporter for the Houston Chronicle and as a local reporter for the Austin American-Statesman.

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