For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health

By Attarian, John | Freeman, March 1999 | Go to article overview

For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health


Attarian, John, Freeman


For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health by Jacob Sullum

The Free Press 1998 . 288 pages $25.00

Hounded by billboards and other "publicservice" exhortations, barred from lighting up almost everywhere but in their own cars and homes, and saddled with rising cigarette taxes, smokers are being treated like pariahs-for their own good, of course. The anti-smoking crusade asserts that tobacco companies concealed the dangers and addictive nature of cigarettes, and manipulated their nicotine content to addict smokers; that all tobacco forms are bad; that secondhand smoke greatly endangers others; that people, especially impressionable teenagers, smoke because of insidious advertisements like Joe Camel; and so on.

In this levelheaded and well-informed book, Reason magazine senior editor Jacob Sullum convincingly debunks these claims. Smoking's health hazards have been known, and openly discussed, for decades. So has manufacturers' control of cigarettes' nicotine levels. Cigars and smokeless tobacco are far less dangerous than cigarettes. No evidence exists that casual exposure to secondhand smoke is a significant danger. As for supposedly sinister old Joe, the most important factors influencing teenagers' decisions to smoke are their sense of smoking's risks and benefits, the demonstration effect of family members who smoke, and peer behavior.

Opposition to smoking, Sullum points out, is nothing new. King James I, Pope Innocent X, and others denounced tobacco as addictive, unhealthy, inconsiderate of others, and downright wicked. But people kept smoking for the benefits and pleasures they got from it, and brushed off warnings of health hazards.

The 1964 Surgeon General's report stated that smoking, linked to cancer and other ailments, was a health hazard serious enough to warrant "appropriate remedial action." This opened, in Sullum's words, "the most concerted, sustained, and successful effort in history to discourage the use of tobacco." For Your Own Good carefully narrates that effort. At first, public health officials realistically recognized that Americans would not abruptly kick the habit, and opted to steer them to safer cigarettes with low tar and nicotine. But gradually the objective changed to eliminating all tobacco use. The anti-smoking movement won several victories. Cigarette advertising on television and radio was banned after 1970. Increasingly blunt warnings were mandated on cigarette packs and cartons.

Feeling the pressure and terrified of lawsuits, the tobacco companies responded by criticizing the evidence of health hazards as inconclusive, sponsoring its own research into the link between tobacco and lung cancer, and introducing filter-tipped and other "safer" cigarettes.

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