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Education: Higher Education

America’s Mind-Altering History


Class 6. The Cigarette and the American Century

Introduction

Readings for this last class explore the rise and fall of the cigarette in American society over the course of the 20th century. What began as a stigmatized form of tobacco became synonymous with women’s rights, modernity, and patriotism in the early decades of the 20th century. As the Red Cross distributed cigarettes to troops in WWI, soldiers around the globe became hooked on nicotine, and the tobacco industry became addicted to the enormous profits tied to cigarette sales. Masculinized through the Marlboro Man, feminized through Virginia Slims, cigarettes were a staple of the American cultural landscape for most of the 20th century. By the mid-century, mounting evidence indicated that cigarettes caused cancer, but the U.S. Surgeon General did not require cigarette labels to state this until 1985. Only with the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, did the tobacco industry begin to pay for a century of damage to the public’s health. In the meantime, the same companies turned to overseas markets (China and African nations especially) and a new ancillary industry emerged domestically to end smoking. From vertical integration, to brand creation and globalization, the history of cigarettes encourages students to consider psychoactive drugs within the context of big business.


Class Resources
primary
  • Borden, Neil H. “The Effect of Advertising on the Demand for Tobacco Products—Cigarettes.” In The Economic Effects of Advertising. Chicago: Richard D. Irwin, 1944, pp. 207-49.
  • “In Old Ads, Doctors and Babies Say ‘Smoke’.” Media and Advertising Slide Show. New York Times, October 6, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/10/06/business/media
    /20081006_CigaretteAd_Slideshow_ready_index.html
    .
  • “The Plight of the Cigar—A Great Industry in the Process of Evolution.” Current Opinion, July 1924, pp. 98-99.
  • Wiley, Harvey W. “The Little White Slaver.” Good Housekeeping Magazine 62 (January 1916): 91-95.
  • “5,500,000 Overseas Cigarettes Right Number for New York City’s ‘Voices With a Smile’.” New York Times, August 1, 1944, p. 12.
secondary
  • Brandt, Allan. “The Cigarette, Risk, and American Culture.” Daedalus, Fall 1990, pp. 155-76.
  • ___. “More Doctors Smoke Camels.” In The Cigarette Century—The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America. New York: Basic Books, 2007, pp.105-29.
  • ___. “Your Cigarette is Killing Me.” In The Cigarette Century—The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America. New York: Basic Books, 2007, pp. 279-315.
  • ___. “Exporting an Epidemic.” In The Cigarette Century—The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America. New York: Basic Books, 2007, pp. 449-91.
  • Toll, Benjamin and Pamela Ling. “The Virginia Slims Identity Crisis: An Inside Look at Tobacco Industry Marketing to Women.” Tobacco Control, 14, 3 (2005) pp. 172-80.

Discussion Questions
  1. How are the roles the U.S. military played in promoting smoking and amphetamine use similar and dissimilar?
  2. How were advertising firms able to employ science to the benefit of their cigarette-industry clients across the 20th century?
  3. How do gender roles affect smoking behavior in men and women? How did advertisers use gendered images and behavior to appeal to men and women? Are these images of cigarettes contradictory?
  4. How does socioeconomic status affect smoking habits today? Is smoking an individual choice? What other factors shape one’s “decision” to smoke? How do socioeconomics affect the resources available to people who want to quit smoking?
  5. Is the cigarette industry different from any other type of global industry? Explain.
  6. Allan Brandt argues that the 20th century was the “cigarette century.” If a cigarette stands for much more than “just a smoke,” what did and what does it stand for in America today? How has the significance of the cigarette changed across the 20th century?
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