Civil Liberties, the Constitution, and Cigars: Anti-Smoking Conspiracy Logic in Cigar Aficionado, 1992-2001

Article excerpt

While the rate of cigarette smoking has steadily declined over the last three decades, the rate of cigar consumption has increased by 66% (Baker, et al. 2000, p. 737; Satcher, 1999). (1) While most cigar smokers are wealthy, well-educated white males (National Cancer Institute, 1998, p. 52; Rigotti et al., 2000, p. 699), (2) adolescents are also picking up the habit. A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation national survey reported that 37% of males and 16% of females between the ages of 14 and 19 have smoked a cigar during the previous year. In fact, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse indicated that 5.6% of adolescents said that they were regular cigar users (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999), and the number of adolescents who have ever smoked cigars is 39% (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000).

With this growing popularity of cigar smoking in America, public health officials have been earnestly trying to convince the public that this seemingly benign fad carries with it many of the dangers associated with cigarette use. Nonetheless, millions of cigar smokers continue to light up, seemingly impervious to the threats of cancer, emphysema, and death. While a myriad of methods and approaches have been adopted to understand why such prevention efforts have been unsuccessful, a textual analysis of Cigar Aficionado-America's leading cigar magazine--provides some overlooked explanations into the role played by one mainstream commercial periodical.

Consequently, it is the purpose of this paper to examine Cigar Aficionado's use of a progressive conspiratorial storyline designed to discredit anti-smoking advocates and their messages. We argue that this conspiracy logic calls into question the authenticity and motives of most of the anti-tobacco advocates in America (scientists, politicians, journalists, lawyers, etc.).

This conspiracy storyline, like the pro-smoking arguments previously found by DeSantis (2002) and DeSantis and Morgan (2003), serves to relieve the cognitive dissonance commonly present during at-risk behavior, and, as such, frees Cigar Aficionado patrons to think only about the joys of cigar smoking, rather than the health consequences of smoking. Throughout the remainder of this paper, we will discuss 1) conspiracy theories; 2) narrative theory; 3) the rise, effects, and promotion of cigar smoking in America; 4) the four major components of Cigar Aficionado's conspiracy; 5) the functions of conspiracy theory in reducing cognitive dissonance; and 6) some implications for health prevention research.

CONSPIRACY THEORY

Conspiracy theories in America--i.e., an agreement between two or more people to perform an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act-are as old as America itself. Since its colonial beginning, conspiracy theories have circulated in what Astier (1992) has called the "margins of American political life" (p. 169). This is not to imply, however, that America has a monopoly on conspiratorial thinking. One needs only to remember the genocidal consequences of Hitler's "Jewish plot," or Stalin's obsession with "fascist spies" to realize that the need to blame one group for the evil of another is "rooted in the rich soil of human intolerance" (Astier, 1992, p. 170).

What seems to set American conspiracies apart from their international counterparts, however, is that they rarely pit one ethnic group against another and are never the "paranoia of a ruler against his [or her] people" (Astier, 1992, p. 171). Instead, American conspiracies cast political and economic leaders as the greatest threats to egalitarian democracy. It is this cynicism, according to Hofstadter (1965) and Davis (1971), that has created fertile ground for conspiratorial theories to germinate and take root throughout America's history.

As America enters into the new millennia, one of the most well funded conspiracy theories to gain national attention accuses the tobacco industry writ large of waging a secret campaign to inculcate America's youth to their addictive product. …