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The Cigarette Century by Allan M. Brandt

In contrast to the symbol of death and disease it is today, from the early 1900s to the 1960s the cigarette was a cultural icon of sophistication, glamour and sexual allure – a highly prized commodity for one out of two Americans.

Many advertising campaigns from the 1930s through the 1950s extolled the healthy virtues of cigarettes to entice the young and old alike to join the crowd.

Old Camels AdFull-color magazine ads depicted kindly doctors clad in white coats proudly lighting up or puffing away, with slogans like “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

There were even little pink gum candy cigarettes sold to children in carton packs so they could mimic their parent’s addictive behavior.

Allan M. Brandt, a medical historian at Harvard, insists that recognizing the dangers of cigarettes resulted from an intellectual process that took the better part of the 20th century.

He described this fascinating story in his new book, “The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America
(Basic Books).

Excerpted from an essay by Howard Markel, M.D.