"ASHES TO ASHES: America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris" by Richard Kluger

"ASHES TO ASHES: America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this sturdy if sometimes long-winded account of tobacco in America, high-toned moralizing on the plight of the ""millions enslaved by nicotine"" accompanies level-headed analysis of the evils of cigarettes. We are ""creatures of folly and victims of our darker nature,"" writes journalist Kluger (The Paper, 1986, etc.), citing as evidence the fact that humans have embraced tobacco and die in appalling numbers because of it. Kluger takes the reader on a historical tour of tobacco, ""one of the treasured and unanticipated gifts of the Old World to the New,"" before settling into an account of tobacco production and marketing in 20th-century America. He is a master at ferreting out intriguing information--by 1891, he notes, cigarette makers were clearing a 27 percent profit margin, an investor's dream that remains constant today--and he has the eye of a John McPhee for piling on data to arrive at a point. That talent sometimes threatens to undo Kluger's narrative; he takes a couple of hundred pages, for instance, to document medicine's quest to determine that cigarette smoking is unhealthy. Bent on exposing the evil of cigarette industrialists, however, the author produces ample rope with which they can hang themselves; one villain among many is Robert Heimann, the head of American Brands in the 1970s, who confessed that his company ""had never bothered"" to assemble a panel of doctors or scientists to advise on the potential health hazards of cigarettes, but who nonetheless tried to be a good corporate citizen by not dumping toxic chemicals into the James River. Rich in long asides on taxation, federal regulation, power politics, and the complexities of international trade, Kluger's endlessly interesting book closes with a discussion of recent liability lawsuits brought against cigarette manufacturers, especially Philip Morris, the greatest villain in Kluger's gallery, and of the ever-lengthening ""shadow of litigation, that chronic potential spoiler of their financial well-being."" Put this in your pipe and prepare for a richly rewarding read.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1996
Page count: 832pp
Publisher: Knopf