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Golden Holocaust

Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition

Robert N. Proctor
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 752
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  • Book Info
    Golden Holocaust
    Book Description:

    The cigarette is the deadliest artifact in the history of human civilization. It is also one of the most beguiling, thanks to more than a century of manipulation at the hands of tobacco industry chemists. InGolden Holocaust, Robert N. Proctor draws on reams of formerly-secret industry documents to explore how the cigarette came to be the most widely-used drug on the planet, with six trillion sticks sold per year. He paints a harrowing picture of tobacco manufacturers conspiring to block the recognition of tobacco-cancer hazards, even as they ensnare legions of scientists and politicians in a web of denial. Proctor tells heretofore untold stories of fraud and subterfuge, and he makes the strongest case to date for a simple yet ambitious remedy: a ban on the manufacture and sale of cigarettes.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95043-6
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-12)

    It was 1970, and I was sixteen and a junior at Southwest High School in Kansas City. All the students were called into the auditorium to hear a guy from the tobacco industry tell us how bad it was for us to smoke. I don’t remember much about the man, except that he was young and groovily dressed, with a striped shirt and white shoes. But his message was clear: smoking is not for children. “An adult choice” is what sticks in my mind. Smoking was like driving or drinking or having sex—things we weren’t even supposed to be...

  5. Introduction: Who Knew What and When?
    (pp. 13-24)

    Pisgah Forest in North Carolina’s Transylvania County may seem like an odd place for human health fortunes to have pivoted, but there’s something to be said for it. Here in the fall of 1953 an experiment was conducted that would change how tobacco companies viewed the world, demonstrating to their apparent satisfaction that cigarettes can cause cancer. The setting was the Ecusta Paper Corporation, the nation’s leading supplier of rolling paper for the American tobacco industry. For more than ten years the company had been churning out the thin white papers that, when rolled into cylinders around chopped fermented tobacco...


    • [PART ONE. Introduction]
      (pp. 25-30)

      The Tobacco Plant is an odd creature. Botanists figure there are about seventy different species in the genusNicotiana—all native to the Americas—several of which have been smoked, chewed, snorted, and “drunk” for hundreds or even thousands of years. (The drinking metaphor is interesting: many people for many years seem to have thought the smoke entered not the lungs but the stomach.) Native Americans used several species, the most popular of which wasNicotiana tabacum, a plant first cultivated, we now believe, in the highlands of Peru and Ecuador, probably around three thousand to five thousand

      People smoke...

    • 1 The Flue-Curing Revolution
      (pp. 31-35)

      Few discoveries have been so consequential, and it all came about by accident. In 1839, or so the story goes, a Negro slave by the name of Stephen on Abisha Slade’s farm in Caswell County, North Carolina, fell asleep while tending the fires inside a tobacco-curing barn. With the fire in danger of dying, the man rushed out and, failing to find any dry wood, gathered up some of the charcoal normally reserved for the blacksmith’s forge and threw this onto the fire. Charcoal burns muchhotterthan wood, which caused the tobacco to cure in a way never before...

    • 2 Matches and Mechanization
      (pp. 36-43)

      We tend to take it for granted, but it is not so easy to make a fire without matches or some kind of petrochemical lighter. Humans have been doing it for tens of thousands of years, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, but a great deal of skill is involved, including knowledge of what kinds of wood or stones must be selected (for rubbing or striking) and what kinds of powders can be used as tinder. Stone Age peoples struck flaked flints against pyrites, for example, allowing the spark to fall on fine dry moss or sawdust cut by termites or...

    • 3 War Likes Tobacco, Tobacco Likes War
      (pp. 44-48)

      It makes sense when you think about it: why should anyone worry about cancer or emphysema thirty years down the road, when bullets are whizzing overhead? That’s basically how tobacco’s critics were silenced during the First World War, when the moralistic prohibitionism that had led to tobacco bans in fifteen U.S. states was brought to its knees. Fine young army boys may die tomorrow, so who are we to deny them the comfort of a smoke? The medical case against tobacco was not yet strong enough to resist the onslaught, and so the YMCA, the Red Cross, and other charities...

    • 4 Taxation: The Second Addiction
      (pp. 49-55)

      It is strange when you think about it: millions of people are killed every year by tobacco, but governments don’t seem to mind very much. Worse, they bend over backwards to encourage it. Governments throughout the world promote the cultivation and manufacture of tobacco via subsidies to farmers, price supports, and agricultural training. Agricultural field stations help farmers learn how to plant, fertilize, and harvest the golden leaf, and most nations have incentives to promote its cultivation. Why do governments encourage the growing and manufacture of such a dangerous consumer “good”?

      The simple answer is revenues from taxation. Tobacco is...

    • 5 Marketing Genius Unleashed
      (pp. 56-87)

      We tend to take it for granted, and find it hard to imagine a world without, butbrandingon a broad scale is an invention of the nineteenth century. And the grand curse and creation of the Americas. Ivory soap was one of the first: Procter and Gamble launched its campaign to market a “99.44 percent pure” mix of lye and fat in 1882, by which time there were only a few other branded consumer products sold nationwide. Americans in different parts of the country could buy Uneeda Biscuits, Paine’s Vegetable Compound, Royal Baking Powder, and the like, but widely...

    • 6 Sponsoring Sports to Sell Smoke
      (pp. 88-117)

      Big Tobacco has been using sports to sell smoke (and chew) since the nineteenth century. Baseball (= cigarette) cards we’ve already encountered, but tobacco sponsorship of teams also dates from this era, as when Buck Duke paid a roller-skating polo team—christened the “Cross Cut Polo Club of Durham, North Carolina”—to tour the United States for his Cross Cut cigarettes. Cigarettes would later often be sold with athletic endorsements: American newspapers and magazines from the 1930s and 1940s are full of athletic endorsements, as when New york Giants fans were told that “21 out of 31 Giants smoke Camel...

    • 7 Parties, the Arts, and Extreme Expeditions
      (pp. 118-133)

      Sport has long been a tobacco target, but the same holds true for many other kinds of events where people gather—especially the young. Which is why a decision was made to sponsor festivals and parties, beginning especially in the 1970s and 1980s. The goal here was to identify where a coveted market target might congregate—college students at spring break hot spots, for example—and then to stage elaborately branded club events. South Padre Island in Texas and Florida’s Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach were prime early prospects, though the practice has since been globalized. Philip Morris has sponsored...

    • 8 Clouding the Web: Tobacco 2.0
      (pp. 134-144)

      Cigarettes are one of the most carefully designed small objects on the planet. But it was not an easy thing to get people to smoke. To make smoking as ordinary as, say, eating carrots or drinking orange juice, you needed an elaborate marketing and promoting apparatus, the likes of which the world had never seen. People also had to learn how to smoke. And while this is easy enough in a world of ubiquitous smoking peers and visual models (just look at today’s Hollywood films), there was a time when people had to be taught how to smoke. In the...


    • [PART TWO. Introduction]
      (pp. 145-148)

      Here we drop back deeper into the past, to revisit “who knew what and when?” about tobacco cancer in the crucial years leading up to the January 1954 launch of the industry’s multidecade campaign of denying and distracting from the evidence linking lung cancer to cigarettes. The topic is a broad one, and I’ll focus primarily on what the industry knew based on animal experiments, including a series of heretofore hidden experiments carried out by the Ecusta Paper Corporation in the summer and fall of 1953—at the request of the American Tobacco Company. These experiments are significant in a...

    • 9 Early Experimental Carcinogenesis
      (pp. 149-154)

      Ecusta scientists were not the first to conduct animal experiments with tobacco. As early as the 1820s German physicians had isolated a pure form of nicotine, showing the alkaloid to be a poison of the first order. A single drop on the tongue could kill a dog, several drops a horse. tobacco throughout the nineteenth century was listed in theU.S. Pharmacopoeia and National Formulary, which characterized the distilled oil of tobacco (oleum tabaci) as containing the “highly poisonous” nicotine alkaloid.¹ Nicotine’s pharmacologic properties later came under revisionist scrutiny, when reformers pushing for new laws to supervise food and drug...

    • 10 Roffo’s Foray and the Nazi Response
      (pp. 155-170)

      Angel Honorio Roffo of Argentina (1882–1947) was the first to showconvincinglythat tars extracted from tobacco could cause tumors in experimental animals. As founding director of the Instituto de Medicina Experimental para el Estudio y Tratamiento del Cancer in Buenos Aires (established in 1922), Roffo was able to examine and treat a large population of cancer patients, from whom he had learned by the end of the 1920s that smoking was a cause of many kinds of cancer.¹ During the next decade and into the early 1940s he published a series of ambitious papers, blending clinical, experimental, and...

    • 11 “Sold American”: Tobacco-Friendly Research at the Medical College of Virginia
      (pp. 171-190)

      On May 22, 2008, theNew York Timespublished an exposé of a rather suspect relationship between virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond and its research sponsor, Philip Morris. The article reveals the university’s having agreed to remarkably restrictive conditions in exchange for funding from the tobacco giant, which totaled $1.3 million in 2007. Virtually all patent rights had been given over to the company, along with whatever other intellectual property might come from the collaboration. The contract stipulated that Philip Morris alone would have the power to decide what results from the grant would be published; it also barred...

    • 12 A Most Feared Document: Claude E. Teague’s 1953 “Survey of Cancer Research”
      (pp. 191-199)

      Most American tobacco trials in recent years have pivoted around two questions: How early did the tobacco industry know that its products were killing people? And how much did ordinary smokers know about the hazards of their habit?

      The two questions are interestingly opposite in their legal implications, since the industry ideally wants us to believe that while popular knowledge of tobacco’s hazards goes back centuries, scientific knowledge has emerged only rather recently. The distinction between popular and scientific knowledge has become a cornerstone of the industry’s defense, with the point being that smokers must shoulder the blame for whatever...

    • 13 “Silent Collaborators”: Clandestine Cancer Research Financed by Tobacco via the Damon Runyon Fund
      (pp. 200-209)

      Medical research was not a high priority for the tobacco industry prior to the 1950s. The publication of strong epidemiological studies in 1950 changed this, causing worries that people were going to stop smoking in consequence of fearing for their lives. All the major companies had been involved in health-related research, but the scope, scale, and urgency of such projects would dramatically increase in the 1950s. Teague’s “Survey of Cancer Research” was part of this, as was American tobacco’s work with the Medical College of virginia, but there were other projects that were even more ambitious, including some so secretive...

    • 14 Ecusta’s Experiments
      (pp. 210-223)

      Tobacco manufacturers by the early 1950s were facing a new kind of quandary. The question was no longer whether butwhysmokers were so often dying from cancer. The tide was clearly shifting to cigarettes as the major cause—but whatpreciselywas it about cigarettes that made them deadly? Arsenic was known to be in tobacco smoke, and Roffo had implicated benzpyrene, but there were lots of other candidates. By the 1950s compounds on the industry’s list of suspects included arsenic, ethylene glycol (and its acrolein derivative), benzpyrene, chemicals released during the burning of cigarette paper and paper additives...

    • 15 Consensus, Hubris, and Duplicity
      (pp. 224-252)

      We like to think of scientific knowledge as cumulative, that ideas once established as true cannot be undone. But the reality is that facts can come undone, there is forgetfulness, and not every good thing flourishes. That was part of the insight of Thomas Kuhn’s greatStructure of Scientific Revolutions:our views of the world change not so much by steady pilings-on of fact but rather by gestalt shifts in how we see the world. Science advances by leaping over the canyons of dried-up ideas, which also means that a certain kind of forgetting—orunlearning—is key to any...


    • [PART THREE. Introduction]
      (pp. 253-256)

      Lying is, among other things, an art. There are many ways to deceive, however, and it generally works best when you can cast yourself as an authority—or better yet, harness he authority of others. The marketing genius of the tobacco industry was carefully developed in the 1930s, with the goal being to “engineer consent” through multiple methods of persuasion. One was to go for the gut; another was to capture the media; another was to make so many groups dependent on you that to question cigarettes was to undermine the economic well-being of the nation. Or at least to...

    • 16 The Council for Tobacco Research: Distraction Research, Decoy Research, Filibuster Research
      (pp. 257-288)

      The year 1953 marks a turning point of sorts in human health fortunes. Deceptive claims had been made in ads for years—that Camels wouldn’t cut your wind or jangle your nerves, for example—but Wynder et al.’s experimental demonstration of cancer from cigarette tars in December of that year demanded a more dramatic response. Smoking was charged with causing cancer, and popular media were reporting on the facts. What was the industry to do?

      Looking back, the companies should have admitted the problem and stopped selling cigarettes. And leading industry figures promised as much. Philip Morris Vice President George...

    • 17 Agnotology in Action
      (pp. 289-304)

      Deception has long been the tobacco industry’s bread and butter. And though we probably cannot trace the strategy of manufacturing doubt to any one evil genius, the strategy does have a history, and key players and principals. High on my list for influentials would be Paul M. Hahn, president of the American tobacco Company and chief architect of the 1953 Plaza Hotel meetings where the denialist campaign was set in motion. Edward A. Darr, president of Reynolds, seems to have helped craft the “no real proof” strategy, and Hill & Knowlton certainly helped polish this turnip. The idea was simple: the...

    • 18 Measuring Ignorance: The Impact of Industry Disinformation on Popular Knowledge of Tobacco Hazards
      (pp. 305-339)

      We’ve seen some of the techniques used by the smoke folk to manufacture and disseminate ignorance. How, though, do we measure the success of such efforts? After all, maybe the companies are right when they say that smokers have always known that tobacco is bad for you, that knowledge of hazards is “common” or nearly universal. If that is true, then perhaps the companies are innocent, or guilty only of puffery: if everyone is fully informed when they begin smoking, why should anyone be upset when disease sets in? The manufacturers may well have lied in denying harms, but is...

    • 19 Filter Flimflam
      (pp. 340-356)

      Overwhelming evidence had accumulated by the mid-1950s that cigarettes were behind the explosive growth of lung cancer. Evidence was also strong that something in thetarsin cigarette smoke was to blame. Fritz Lickint in Germany as early as 1935 had concluded that nicotine was “probably innocent” of carcinogenic potency and that benzpyrene was the more likely guilty party, basing much of his argument on Roffo’s work.¹ Two decades later severaldozendangerous chemicals had been identified in tobacco smoke—and not just carbon monoxide, ammonia, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons of various sorts (including benzpyrene) but also carcinogens such as...

    • 20 The Grand Fraud of Ventilation
      (pp. 357-389)

      Chief among the things keeping the filter craze going was that it helped sell cigarettes. Many smokers had started worrying about their health, especially after the grim and widely publicized epidemiology and animal experiments of the early 1950s and increasingly after the Surgeon General’s report of 1964. The tobacco industry realized that people were willing to switch to filters as seemingly “safer” and did nothing to dissuade them from this myth. Indeed they were its chief architects, championing filters as “cleaner,” “more effective,” or even “miraculous.” The companies were happy to attach such contraptions onto their products, for three principal...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 21 Crack Nicotine: Freebasing to Augment a Cigarette’s “Kick”
      (pp. 390-405)

      It has always struck me as odd when people are shocked to learn that the tobacco industry has “manipulated” nicotine chemistry. What should we expect? Nicotine manipulation is not even necessarily a bad thing: if you’re going to smoke, you’d probably just as soon have your nicotine manipulated as left to chance. Whiskey makers know—and can control—how much alcohol will end up in their product, and drug makers of course calibrate dosages quite precisely. Heroin users die because their doses are unregulated, uncontrolled.

      The presumption behind the shock seems to be that tobacco should be as “natural” as...

    • 22 The “Light Cigarette” Scam
      (pp. 406-417)

      James J. Morgan was one of the most capable marketeers Philip Morris has ever had. After joining the company in 1963, the Princeton graduate (with a B.A. in history) had risen up through the ranks to shepherd, first, the Parliament brand, then virginia Slims. In 1970, however, he was promoted to market heaven as brand manager for Marlboro, the brand that, as a result of ammoniation and creative cowboy marketing, would soon become the best-selling cigarette in the world. Managing such an important brand was a plum job, and Morgan performed well, judging from his subsequent promotions. By 1994 he...

    • 23 Penetrating the Universities
      (pp. 418-458)

      In 1963 Senator Maurine B. Neuberger of Oregon wondered whom future historians might indict for “our failure to find even a partial solution to the problem of smoking during the first 10 years after its dangers were revealed.” There was plenty of blame to go around, and the distinguished senator pondered the options:

      The tobacco industry, for its callous and myopic pursuit of its own self-interest? The government, for its timidity and inertia in failing to formulate a positive program of prevention? The medical profession, for abdicating its role of leader in this crucial area of public health? or is...

    • 24 Historians Join the Conspiracy
      (pp. 459-482)

      The tobacco industry cannot do what it does without help. Grave misdeeds require accomplices, and in the cigarette world a continual rewriting of the past is key to the industry’s survival. Time and again the companies have been forced into court and come out smelling like a rose. They cannot do this alone, however; they need experts willing to help.

      Scholars can be a remarkably compliant lot, and my own field of history is no exception. Indeed they have much to atone for. Since the early 1990s more than fifty professional historians have testified for the industry in court (see...


    • [PART FOUR. Introduction]
      (pp. 483-488)

      On May 26, 1995, Philip Morris made a startling announcement. The world’s largest cigarette company admitted that a sizable number of its cigarettes had been “tainted” by improper mixing of a plasticizing agent ordinarily used in making filters and announced the beginning of a recall. Eight billion “smelly, bad-tasting cigarettes” were eventually pulled from the shelves, after smokers had started noticing an odor akin to certain kinds of plastics or pesticides. The recall cost the company over $100 million, but the public was assured no harm was done, and business continued as usual. A batch of improperly mixed “plasticizer” was...

    • 25 What’s Actually in Your Cigarette?
      (pp. 489-505)

      There’s an old saying in the food business, that people will eat almost anything if you grind it up fine enough. With food of course there is a certain amount of oversight, and acute poisonings attract attention. But with tobacco the situation is different. Cigarette makers have had virtually unlimited freedom to add whatever they want to cigarettes—whether to elevate sales or reduce costs or kill mold or prolong shelf life or make handling by machinery easier. Or to supercharge the nicotine or to appeal to the youthful sweet tooth. And given the fertility of the tobacco man’s mind,...

    • 26 Radioactivity in Cigarette Smoke: “Three Mile Marlboro” and the Sleeping Giant
      (pp. 506-512)

      Some cigarette constituents are astonishingly little known—or rather transiently known, publicized, and then forgotten in cycles of media attention and forgetfulness. Radioactivity is a perfect example: few people today realize there are deadly radioactive isotopes in cigarettes, but the fact is that smoking is one of the principal means by which people are exposed to cancer-causing radiation. The story is a remarkable one, and little known to the world outside the companies’ private laboratories.¹

      The reality is that radioactive isotopes were identified in smoke as early as 1953. D.K. Mulvany that year presented the first such evidence in a...

    • 27 The Odd Business of Butts—and the Global Warming Wildcard
      (pp. 513-518)

      The final scene of the 1950 sci-fi-flickDestination Moonshows a team of American astronauts faced with a life-or-death crisis. The spacecraft has successfully landed on the moon, but faulty navigation has forced the voyagers to use up more fuel than expected, and they realize they cannot make it back to earth without shedding some weight. The crew starts looking everywhere to lose some pounds: a ladder is jettisoned, along with wrenches, clothing, and pretty much everything else not absolutely essential. Self-sacrifice is the leitmotiv, and only some clever and drastic pruning prevents them from having to leave one of...

    • 28 “Safer” Cigarettes?
      (pp. 519-538)

      Tobacco companies have sometimes claimed it is not possible to make a “safe” or even a “safer” cigarette, though the basis for that argument has shifted somewhat in recent years. The claim used to be there wasno pointto making cigarettes “safer,” since they had never been shown to be unsafe. In the late 1990s this argument was given a bizarre twist, as the companies began characterizing cigarettes asinherentlyrisky. The hope was to glide safely through the collapse of the denialist project, using the reassuring rhetoric of “risk”: Isn’t life, after all, inherently risky? So isn’t the...

    • 29 Globalizing Death
      (pp. 539-548)

      Humans are naturally inquisitive, and it would probably be hard to find an animal, vegetable, or mineral that has not, at some time or another, been put to the inhalation or ingestion test. Tobacco has been helped along, however, by certain properties of the plant itself. The plant is weedily easy to grow, with a range now extending from the tropics into places like Germany or even Sweden and Canada. Also, the seeds are astonishingly small: thousands fit into a tablespoon, which helps explain how easily the herb was transported from South America and (later) Mesoamerica and North America. Francisco...

    • 30 What Must Be Done
      (pp. 549-562)

      Our goal should be to prevent tobacco death. Smoking already kills more people than all the world’s infectious diseases combined: the number has now reached six million per year and will stay high for decades even if everyone stops smoking tomorrow. The industry wants us to think about tobacco as a “solved problem” or an issue from the distant past, but the reality is that most tobacco death lies in the future. only about 100 million people died from smoking in the twentieth century, whereas we in our century can expect a billion tobacco deaths if we continue on our...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 563-666)
    (pp. 667-680)
    (pp. 681-690)
    (pp. 691-696)
    (pp. 697-698)
    (pp. 699-702)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 703-737)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 738-738)