The Cigarette: A Political History

The Cigarette: A Political History

by Sarah Milov

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Allan Brandt

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.

Nancy MacLean

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.

Jonathan Levy

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.

Bryant Simon

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.

Refinery29 - Elena Nicolaou

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.

New Republic - Scott W. Stern

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.

New York Times Book Review

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.

Nursing Clio - Jaipreet Virdi

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.

Los Angeles Review of Books

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.

Jezebel

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.

Smithsonian

Deftly connects the rise in organized opponents to smoking to food safety, car safety and other consumer rights movements of the 20th century.

Nature

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.

Financial Times

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.

Lizabeth Cohen

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.

Wall Street Journal

An impressive work of scholarship evincing years of spadework…A well-told story. Milov has an eye for detail.

The Lancet - Talha Khan Burki

[An] intriguing history of the American cigarette.

Jotwell - Reuel Schiller

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.

LSE Review of Books - Adhip Amin

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.

Choice

Adds much to understanding the role cigarettes played in US history over the last century.

Journal of Arizona History - Bart Elmore

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.

Lizabeth Cohen

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.

Financial Times

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.

Wall Street Journal

An impressive work of scholarship evincing years of spadework…A well-told story. Milov has an eye for detail.

Library Journal

07/19/2019

In her first book, Milov (history, Univ. of Virginia) keenly describes the history of the U.S. tobacco industry during the 20th century, arguing that the government promoted smoking beginning with the New Deal. Following the World War II, America subsidized the exportation of tobacco to foreign markets. By the 1960s, the U.S. Surgeon General began authoring reports detailing the harmful and deadly effects of smoking. Activists belonging to groups with acronyms such as GASP and ASH advocated hard for nonsmokers' rights, which were met with hostility from the tobacco industry and its legislative allies from tobacco-producing states. Activists bypassed tobacco's supporters in Washington and took their clean-air campaigns and smoke-free area fights to state and local governments. Drawing on a wide variety of trade publications, government studies, and activist literature, Milov provides a thoughtful and penetrating analysis of both the tobacco industry, and its relationship to government. VERDICT Milov's history will be of great interest to those interested in political history and the interactions between the government and industry.—Chad E. Statler, Westlake Porter P.L., Westlake, OH

Kirkus Reviews

2019-08-18
The cigarette in America, a history that "does not begin and end with Big Tobacco."

Milov (History/Univ. of Virginia) mixes big-picture academic theory with fascinating, specific details to illuminate the rise and fall of tobacco production—and cigarette sales—in the United States. In 1965, writes the author, "politicians, experts, and everyday Americans increasingly knew that cigarettes were deadly…yet 42 percent of Americans smoked." The estimated number of smokers today is 15 percent. Milov shows how sales were boosted by the combined efforts of tobacco growers, wholesalers, retailers, industry lobbyists, public relations professionals from the private sector, labor unionists, and players within federal, state, and local governments. Then she explains how the increasingly well-documented health hazards from cigarettes led nonsmokers—including public-interest lawyers—to push local governments and employers to curtail smoking in public places and workplaces. At intervals within the mostly chronological narrative, the author discusses how tobacco farmers and cigarette manufacturers managed to sell their products in countries all over the world, with deadly consequences for consumers but positive economic consequences for foreign governments through the taxation of those consumers. Mostly, though, Milov focuses on American politics and the consumers affected by the policies surrounding cigarettes. At times, the author engages with philosophical questions: Is smoking a legal "right"? Do nonsmokers have a "right" to reside in a nonhazardous environment? Who should decide those rights when claims conflict? Throughout, Milov offers intriguing historical tidbits: For example, cigarette sales shot up during both world wars because U.S. military leaders decided the troops would feel appreciated if they received free cigarettes while deployed. In addition, the author shares compelling information about why labor union leaders wanted smoking allowed on the job even after the deadly nature of cigarettes became evident. The leading insight: Unions did not want to surrender control over what became mandatory smoking breaks.

A fine history of "the political economy of tobacco."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674241213
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/02/2019
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 406,816
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Customer Reviews