Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Daniel J. Robinson the author of Cigarette Nation: Business, Health, and Canadian Smokers, 1930–1975 from the Intoxicating Histories Series at McGill-Queen’s University Press edited by Virginia Berridge and Erika Dyck. Robinson is a historian and associate professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. He is currently researching historical tobacco use in Indigenous Canada and cigarette smoking and vaping among North American youths.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
For most of the last century, bars like this were filled with cigarette smokers. So, too, were restaurants, bowling alleys, physician waiting rooms, workplaces, and countless other public and private spaces. In the early 1950s, six in ten Canadians regularly smoked cigarettes—which were touted for enhancing sociability, psychological well-being, and productivity. By then, smoking had become a key marker of self-identity and social belonging. So, my book asks, how did these smokers react to news in the 1950s that cigarettes caused lung cancer? How did the tobacco industry respond? Some smokers, mostly older men, managed to quit, but the majority carried on, and lots of new smokers joined their ranks. For decades, smokers downplayed tobacco-cancer science and viewed their own mode of smoking as less risky. The industry promoted this thinking with a strategy of “Hope and Doubt.” “Hope” came in the form of health reassurance marketing, seen, for example, with light and mild brands which smokers believed were safer. The industry promoted “doubt” with a long-running disinformation campaign that attacked the medical science linking cigarettes to cancer and other serious diseases.