Tobacco and capitalism.

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Mon Dec 7 07:06:01 PST 1998

Chris Burford wrote:

>Freud is famously quoted as saying "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar".
>What a relief. But Doug, when I post an item totalling the annual profits
>of the three major tobacco capitalists in the UK, a market of roughly 50
>million inhabitants, at around 3 billion dollars, then we cannot say a
>cigarette is just a cigarette.

Oh yes, and the world food market is cornered by greedheads like Cargill - better do something about that eating habit! And medicine by Merck - better stop getting sick, too!!

>The news item I reported actually shows how careful the new third way is to
>avoid moralism.

Huh? The Third Way approach is to avoid old-fashioned Christian style moralism, but replace it with Hillary-style social worker moralism (which you could argue is a mix of Methodism and Fabianism). It medicalizes morals - smoking and drinking are denounced not as stinkpots of corruption, but as a public health problem. Bill Clinton himself was big on this stuff until he got caught with his pants down; thank god for Monica Lewinsky so we don't have to hear him moralize anymore.

>What is bugging you about this campaign? Are you against it in principle or
>are you just against moralistic politics? Can you give examples because I
>do not accept that the campaign to curtail the power of the tobacco
>capitalists has to be moralistic. It will also be more clear headed if it
>is not.

I'm against it because it's moralistic, and because as I said in my first response to your outburst, it's grossly simplistic (and unworthy of a psychoanalyst) to attribute smoking to the "power of the tobacco capitalists." Be careful or I'll inflict the list with long excerpts from Richard Klein's book Cigarettes Are Sublime. Well, here's just one:

<quote> The most recent evidence of the link between smoking and liberation is visible in the struggle women have waged in this century for their freedom. It is probably no accident that in April 1945 women received the right to vote in France, two weeks after they had received cigarette rations for the first time since the war. They were allotted, however, only onethird of the rations men received - "a long way, baby," but not yet there. in the Conclusion, I will review the results of a European Community health investigation showing that European women are much more likely to smoke in those countries where they are the most liberated from traditional places and roles. This fact lends credence to the suspicion that some of the current impetus for the wave of antitabagism derives from its concealed misogyny, or antifeminism.

Americans today, as always forgetting their own history, aroused to paroxysms of antismoking sentiment, think they invented it. At the turn of this century, as well as in the 1920s and 1930s, powerful political forces combated the "demon weed." Then, as now, protests on behalf of the health of the citizenry masked moral objections, just as censors always defend their interdictions by adducing the harm that some form of expression or pleasure may inflict on society as a whole.

The beauty and benefits of cigarettes have been repressed and forgotten in America, where the climate of opinion ranges in abstractness from implicit forms of social disapproval to laws banning smoking on all domestic flights. The last is a sign of the dangerous lengths to which antismoking impulses will go to deny others the freedom to enjoy the consolation and the mastery cigarettes provide in moments of stress or fear. Many people who do not normally smoke take up smoking during times of personal or public crisis, at moments of great anxiety when self-control and concentration are required. Nowhere these days does one hear voices lifted to praise cigarettes, as one often does in wartime, for their multiple psychological and social benefits, for their cultural value, or for their aesthetic power. But as time goes by, the circle turns. This book proceeds on the hunch that the present climate may change, perhaps gently as the result of something like fashion-an effect of the turning of an obscure process of cyclical historical development-perhaps violently, under the pressure of widespread social tensions. The United States does not need to await a vast calamity in order to rediscover the social benefits of cigarettes or to appreciate their remarkable contribution to modernity-and to resume its love affair with cigarettes, America's gift to the world. It could come suddenly, with a vengeance, in a moment when the society needs all the collective control over anxiety that it can muster.

To evoke a climate of opinion other than the current one, we need only recall the value that was assigned to a carton of cigarettes, for example in Europe in 1945. Cigarettes served then, as tobacco had for the earliest settlers in Virginia, and later for Lewis and Clark, as a universal token of exchange-the "Gold Token," as good as gold. George Washington wrote to the Continental Congress: "If you can't send money-send tobacco" (Rival 188). Lewis and Clark used it as their principal token of exchange with the Indians. In Drancy, the French concentration camp, on the eve of departures a puff on a cigarette was worth to francs; 100 francs bought two whole ones.

The world can only be grateful for the precision and insistence with which doctors remind it of the dangers of smoking poison; that is their job. But the suspicion here is that the passions and the uses to which that information is being put are wildly disproportionate to the danger that tobacco poses-particularly other people's smoke. For the moment, cigarettes have become the focus or fetish of puritanical prohibitions like those that, in the past, periodically constrained freedom and censored pleasure in the name of protecting the collective well-being from harm, but always under the darker suspicion of wishing to increase state control or to conceal other interests. Not long ago, the secretary of health castigated cigarette marketing during the very week that the White House chief of staff weakened the clean air bill. The passionate excess of zeal with which cigarettes are everywhere stigmatized may signal that some more pervasive, subterranean, and dangerous passions are loose that directly threaten our freedom. The freedom to smoke ought to be understood as a significant token of the class of freedoms, and when it is threatened one should look instantly for what other controls are being tightened, for what other checks on freedom are being administered. The attitude of a society toward the freedom to smoke is a test of the way it understands the rights of people at large, for at any time, all the time, a quarter to a half of all the adults in the world are puffing away at cigarettes. The question of the connection between the freedom to smoke and general freedoms in the society is hard to prove, but this book will suggest that it ought never to be disimplicated. </quote>


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list