CIGARETTE WARS by Cassandra Tate


The Triumph of the ``Little White Slaver''
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A brief yet detailed history of the fluctuating popularity of the cigarette in America and of the reform movements dedicated to snuffing it out. According to journalist and historian Tate, in her first book, when James B. Duke created the modern American cigarette industry in the 1880s, the cigarette was demonized as a symbol of moral degeneracy. Only decadent bohemians or unwashed immigrants smoked “coffin nails.” The stigmatized cigarette was an easy target for Progressive Era reformers. In 1899, Lucy Page Gaston founded the Anti-Cigarette League to lobby for the prohibition of smoking. An evangelical Protestant, Gaston forged strong alliances with other reformist groups, such as the YMCA and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Attacking the cigarette as a moral blight, Gaston deemed smoking a “gateway” vice that led to alcoholism, narcotics addiction, gambling, and criminality. Many industrial leaders, notably Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and John Harvey Kellogg, refused to hire smokers because “they simply could not be trusted.” Fifteen states banned the sale of cigarettes before 1917. Yet WWI changed everything. In sending troops to Europe, Congress prohibited alcohol and prostitution near army bases but allowed the “lesser evil” of cigarette smoking. Billions of cigarettes were thus shipped overseas as army rations. The cultural impact of this policy was immense, according to Tate, serving to “transform what was once a manifestation of moral weakness into a jaunty emblem of freedom, democracy, and modernity.” Throughout the postwar period and beyond, cigarettes became identified with Hollywood glamour and the loosening of traditional values, especially among women. Antismoking advocates were mocked as Puritan killjoys. The cigarette had won the battle of acceptance, but, as Tate deftly points out, the cigarette wars continue, with medicine rather than morality now leading the assault. An entertaining account of a little-known episode in American cultural history, and a keen reminder that the ever-embattled cigarette has risen from its ashes more than once. (17 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-511851-0
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1998