Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition

Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition

Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition

Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition

Synopsis

The cigarette is the deadliest artifact in the history of human civilization. It is also one of the most beguiling, thanks to more than a century of manipulation at the hands of tobacco industry chemists. In Golden Holocaust, Robert N. Proctor draws on reams of formerly-secret industry documents to explore how the cigarette came to be the most widely-used drug on the planet, with six trillion sticks sold per year. He paints a harrowing picture of tobacco manufacturers conspiring to block the recognition of tobacco-cancer hazards, even as they ensnare legions of scientists and politicians in a web of denial. Proctor tells heretofore untold stories of fraud and subterfuge, and he makes the strongest case to date for a simple yet ambitious remedy: a ban on the manufacture and sale of cigarettes.

Excerpt

It was 1970, and I was sixteen and a junior at Southwest High School in Kansas City. All the students were called into the auditorium to hear a guy from the tobacco industry tell us how bad it was for us to smoke. I don’t remember much about the man, except that he was young and groovily dressed, with a striped shirt and white shoes. But his message was clear: smoking is not for children. “An adult choice” is what sticks in my mind. Smoking was like driving or drinking or having sex—things we weren’t even supposed to be thinking about. We were supposed to wait.

I think of that guy whenever I hear people fret over “youth smoking,” and I marvel at how Big Tobacco manages to keep a step or two ahead of everyone else. Mr. White Shoes’s message was delicious advertising, merging the best of reverse psychology with the time-honored trick of tempting by forbidding fruit. Marketers know that no one smokes to look younger and that kids want what they cannot have, especially if it’s “for adults”—which is also why school programs urging kids not to smoke tend to fail. Teenagers don’t like to be infantilized or patronized, a fact the companies have long understood far better than their critics.

The tobacco makers are notorious masters of deception; they know how to manufacture ignorance and to rewrite history. They know the power of images and how to twist these to violate common sense and pulmonary civility. They also know how to engineer desire, and, of course, they’d like us to believe they don’t want youngsters to smoke. Health advocates have a good rule of thumb: ask cigarette makers what should be done (say, to curb youth smoking), and whatever they say, do the opposite.

Time, though, has been surprisingly good to Big T. Cigarettes remain the world’s single largest preventable cause of death—dwarfing all others—and most of that . . .

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