THEY SATISFY: The Cigarette in American Life by Robert Sobel

THEY SATISFY: The Cigarette in American Life

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Robert Sobel, non-smoking professor of history at Hofstra University and author of a handful of books on business (Inside Wall Street, The Age of Giant Corporations), has written a brief but telling history of the American tobacco industry and its very questionable contribution to American life, the cigarette. Despite the title, Sobel stresses tobacco as an industry and the rational, profit-maximizing responses of that industry to various situations. Two examples: the world wars, Sobel explains, were seized as opportunities by the Big Four tobacco companies because, as every tyro tobacco executive knows, cigarette consumption rises during wars. More recently, these companies gladly embraced the trend to low tar and nicotine cigarettes because they are cheaper to produce than standard smokes. Sobel shows us such issues as health and sickness, war and peace, female liberation and male machismo, through the profit-maximizing corporate eye. But this is a social history as well as a corporate one. Sobel describes: the battle to replace the cigar with the cigarette as the smoke of respectable people; the WW I anti-cigarette crusade of Lucy Page Gaston, who died of throat cancer; the epic antitrust cases against the tobacco industry in 1911 and 1941; and the Madison Avenue brainstorms which produced the ungrammatical but very effective ""Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should"" and the brilliant ""You've come a long way, baby,"" which, capitalizing on women's liberation, captured many female smokers for Virginia Slims. Sobel peppers his book with tales of colorful characters (G. W. Hill, President of the American Tobacco Company, festooned his limousine with Lucky Strikes), and he is a good explicator of cigarette technology, from 19th-century debates on the qualities of Turkish and White Burley tobaccos to such spage-age refinements as the micronite and multi-chamber filters. A fine social and corporate study by a veteran of the genre--and clearly labeled for smokers who are trying to quit.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1978
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday