Public smoking prohibitions, higher tobacco taxes, bans on flavored vapor and tobacco products, Tobacco 21 legislation, and a host of other restrictions on the adult enjoyment of tobacco and vapor products have confronted tobacco and vapor manufacturers, retailers and consumers in an ever-increasing, prohibitive worldwide movement to eliminate the use of all tobacco and vapor products. Virtually everywhere around the globe, tobacco and vapor entrepreneurs face legislation at federal, state and local levels that aims to kill their businesses. At the same time, these government entities and anti-tobacco advocates demonize smoking and vaping to such levels as to make adult consumers of these products social outcasts who are unworthy of fair consideration of their pursuit of enjoyment, and they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal of creating a tobacco-free world.
In this decidedly hostile environment that is against the enjoyment of tobacco in all of its forms, Jacob Grier, a journalist who regularly contributes to Slate, Reason, The Atlantic and many other publications, has launched his second book, The Rediscovery of Tobacco: Smoking, Vaping and the Creative Destruction of the Cigarette. Previously, Grier authored Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer. For The Rediscovery of Tobacco, Grier ably mines a rich supply of source materials, including books, magazines, newspaper articles, and medical and academic journals as he researches the reasons why tobacco is viewed as “pure vice” and its users are considered “social pariahs” by the rest of society—and he assembles a defense of certain types of tobacco use, which he asserts are “an indulgence worth defending.”
The Rediscovery of Tobacco is both history as well as political and social commentary, as it explores the human history of tobacco use and the rise of the anti-tobacco movement. It documents the “ends justify any-means” mentality of the anti-smoking movement, which distorts science to move closer to the movement’s goal of creating a tobacco-free world, including dismissing potentially safer alternatives that could save lives, such as vapor products and snus. The Rediscovery of Tobacco offers a compelling argument that cigars and pipes can add pleasure to life and are less dangerous than cigarettes when used responsibly. Grier concludes his book by arguing that societies that value liberty should roll back anti-tobacco legislation and protect smokers’ rights instead of continuing down the path of top-down authoritarianism that increasingly tells people how to live their lives.
From Cottage Industry to Big Tobacco
Grier begins The Rediscovery of Tobacco by asking why tobacco has been excluded from the gastronomical revival that food and drink have enjoyed—after all, cigars and pipe tobaccos offer tantalizing flavors that chefs, bartenders and gourmands seek. Like products in the food and beverage industries, “Tobacco was one of many products to undergo industrialization, commodification and national branding that revolutionized the food and drink industries. But unlike many of those products, it has barely managed to recover its history from those processes.” (32)
By the time Europeans encountered Native Americans, rudimentary forms of cigars, cigarettes and pipes had already been developed in the New World, and an anti-tobacco sentiment arose in Europe when explorers brought tobacco back from their voyages. Rodriguez de Jerez, who sailed with Christopher Columbus and returned to Spain with tobacco, was jailed by the Spanish Inquisition for introducing smoking, which it deemed a form of devil worship. Despite early opposition, tobacco use spread throughout Europe and was championed by physicians, including Jean Nicot, who recommended that French Queen Catherine de Medici use tobacco snuff to relieve her migraines. The practice caught on in the French court and spread throughout the continent as well as in the variety of its use, including cigars and smoking pipes. Tobacco manufacturing remained largely a cottage industry until the late 19th century and early 20th century, when advances in cigarette-making commodified tobacco and the cigarette became the dominant style of tobacco use. Cigarettes proved to be more stimulating than cigars and pipes and were more addictive. Cigarette companies became huge multinational corporations with equally large marketing budgets to attract more people to their products. “As the people who smoked [cigarettes] began dying in record numbers, it became clear that the cigarette was a modern, mass-produced, smartly engineered package of addiction and death.” (54)
Tobacco and smoking became synonymous with cigarettes, and thus health issues caused by cigarette use became associated with all other forms of tobacco use. For this reason, Grier asserts, tobacco has not experienced the same sort of revival that food and beverages have enjoyed, and yet it should because, “If cigarettes are the fast-food hamburgers of the tobacco world, pipes and cigars are the slow-cured, handmade sausages.” (53)
The Ultimate Goal
The anti-tobacco movement’s ultimate endgame is to eliminate combustible tobacco products altogether, and it looks as if they will attempt to achieve their goal by seeking to completely remove nicotine from tobacco products. Grier writes, “Advocates want to bring an end to smoking and are willing to employ coercive means to do so…. If technocrats prevail, the freedom to smoke or use nicotine in any form may be extinguished.” (199)
Grier sets the anti-tobacco movement against a background of liberal ideology that allows free market consumers to make choices from the bottom up based on weighing the potential risks of those options versus authoritarian fiat that restricts choices from the top down. The former allows the market to dictate what products are available and recognizes that some people may want to smoke. The latter insists that a person’s choice to smoke or vape is irrelevant—nicotine is the enemy, and anyone who would choose to smoke or vape is addicted to it. Prohibition is their goal, and many of them believe that smokers so hate smoking that they will view prohibition as liberation. “The anti-smoking movement began with well-intentioned efforts to help people quit smoking, to prevent them from taking up the habit, and to change social norms that invited smokers to foul the air wherever they pleased. It has morphed into an ideological crusade. Today’s anti-smoking activists deny the agency of consenting adults, abridging their rights to smoke together in privately owned spaces or to purchase products that drastically reduce their exposure to lethal carcinogens. They no longer recognize the dignity of smokers and other nicotine users as equal citizens…. They have become profoundly illiberal.” (208-209)
Anti-smoking activists fail to see smoking as a pleasurable pursuit that can bring adults together and allow them to enjoy each other’s company. Rather than pursue policies that further restrict choice and freedom, Grier advocates that policies should be adopted that recognize dissenting preferences from anti-smoking activists’ views. Cigarette companies should be encouraged to create less harmful nicotine-delivery systems, the FDA should abandon premarket authorization for products that do not have significant differences from existing products, and consumers should have accurate information that allows them to make informed decisions about the products they consider using. Public smoking bans far exceed reasonable response to the danger of secondhand smoke, and businesses should decide if they allow smoking in their establishments. Outdoor smoking bans should be eliminated altogether.
Tobacco is ultimately about pleasure and adds value to life, Grier argues. He hopes that combustible cigarette use will end voluntarily if alternative, less harmful tobacco products—such as cigars, pipes, vapor, e-cigarettes and snus—are allowed to continue to be used with less restrictive tobacco control. Grier concludes The Rediscovery of Tobacco by dreaming of how tobacco would be viewed if cigarettes had never been invented. “We would see a plant with intriguing flavors, a rich history and a beguiling ability to suit one’s moods at seemingly contradicting occasions…. We’d see a means of adding texture to life. We’d see a product that’s not for everyone but is understandably for some … tobacco is an indulgence worth defending.” (222-223)
The Rediscovery of Tobacco: Smoking, Vaping and the Creative Destruction of the Cigarette is available at Amazon, Apple and bookstores.
This story first appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Story by Stephen A. Ross, editor-in-chief of Tobacco Business Magazine.