Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).
The superb historian of medicine Keith Wailoo has just written Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette (online book talk here). With this fifth monograph, Wailoo places a capacious 20th-century frame around a culturally and economically significant drug—just as he did around opiates in Pain: A Political History (2015). For those of us in the subfield of alcohol & drugs history, both books offer unique insights from a gifted researcher with deep experience writing about the impact of race on health by way of institutions. In Pain, those institutions mostly are public and federal, from the camera-ready 1980s “Just Say No”-style prohibition campaigns to quieter efforts to deny opiates to Medicaid patients—including combat-injured veterans—with chronic pain.
But in Pushing Cool, the institutions are tobacco companies, along with the Madison Avenue firms they hire to pry open particular demographic segments and make them smokers. Wailoo identifies 1964 as the start of an aggressive campaign to attract urban Black consumers to menthol cigarettes, a charge led by Brown & Williamson’s Kool but soon attracting dozens of other menthol brands.