Smoking out the Truth Book on Tobacco Industry Shows Executives `in Bed with the Devil'

Article excerpt

THE CIGARETTE PAPERS

By Stanton A. Glantz, John Slade, Lisa A Bero, Peter Hanauer and Deborah E. Barnes

539 pages, University of California Press, $29.95

ASHES TO ASHES

America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, The Public Health and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris By Richard Kluger

807 pages, Knopf, $35

IN THE WORLD of anti-smoking activists, Stanton Glantz's name has been familiar for years. This book is quite likely to make the University of California health researcher well-known to a much larger audience.

In 1994, Glantz received a surprise shipment from an anonymous source. As he opened the box, he saw thousands of pages of internal tobacco industry documents. Many of those documents provided evidence to bolster what anti-smoking activists had been saying all along: Tobacco company executives have known for decades that smoking is a deadly addiction.

Reading the words of the tobacco company executives is more convincing than generalized accusations from the activists predisposed to be shrill. Though there is nothing shockingly new in the documents reproduced and analyzed by Glantz and his multidisciplinary fellow authors, perhaps a crude comparison will help explain why this book is so oddly compelling: It is one thing to suspect your spouse is having an extramarital affair. It is another thing to actually catch your spouse in bed with a lover. The second is certainly more compelling than the first.

The Glantz team has caught tobacco industry executives in bed with the devil nicotine, so to speak. They deserve praise for their readable analys is of the documents. The University of California Press deserves praise for publishing a book despite the likelihood of litigation, a book that many major New York publishers were afraid to touch.

Richard Kluger's book is an excellent complement to "The Cigarette Papers." Rather than a selective compilation of leaked documents, it is an old-fashioned (in the best sense) history of tobacco.

The subtitle describes the scope of the book well. Kluger indeed goes back 100 years, and further, as he tells his saga more or less chronologically. Kluger indeed discusses the health aspects of smoking at length, touching on that controversy in every one of his 20 chapters.

The third part of the subtitle is more problematic. Kluger indeed devotes many pages to the largest contemporary tobacco company, Philip Morris. But he devotes many pages to its competitors, too, undermining his suggestion that Philip Morris is the strong thread that keeps the book from unraveling. Furthermore, many readers are likely to quarrel with the adjective "unabashed" in front of "triumph." If triumph refers to market share of cigarettes sold, Philip Morris qualifies for the adjective. …