A journalistic portrait, alternately affectionate and damning, of the world’s favorite weed.
Parker-Pope admits to having been a social smoker, one who shrugged off the budding habit when she entered her first no-smoking newsroom in the mid-1980s. “Most smokers,” she writes, “aren’t so lucky. Only 10 percent of smokers can take it or leave it. That means 90 percent of the people who use cigarettes are addicts.” Her tale of how the cigarette evolved from a staple of the 19th-century proletariat and soldiery to a global business is full of fascinating tidbits. One is the sheer enormity of the industry, which now produces an estimated 5.5 trillion cigarettes each year (or a thousand cigarettes for every person on the planet). At a going price of more than $2.75 a pack, that adds up to a pile of money, some of which fuels an entire sub-economy of lawyers (18 percent of that price goes to pay the legal bills for recent multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuits against the tobacco companies), and much of which ends up in the coffers of the state (in the form of taxes). The fact that tobacco is now an important source of government revenue, she suggests, is only one reason why cigarettes are not immediately outlawed—smoking is too much a part of modern culture to be so easily uprooted, and “when the smoke clears from the tobacco wars, the last man (or woman) standing may well be a smoker with a cigarette in his (or her) mouth.” Parker-Pope is occasionally careless; she attributes the glamorization of smoking among women to one Betty—not Bette—Davis, and her numbers don’t always add up. Still, her argument is intriguing, and her study makes a fine light-touch companion to Stanton Glantz’s monumental Cigarette Papers (1996).
Cigarette fans and foes alike will find something useful in these pages.