1964: The Year in Smoking—Race, Cigarettes, and Capitalism

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. 

Kool Advertisements 1960s
Kool’s print advertising targeted at Black cigarette smokers in 1962, 1963, and 1965. Images collected in Stanford University’s Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising project.

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“Buried Alive in a Chemical Tomb”: The Story of the “Trip or Trap” Anti-Drug Playing Card Deck

Editor’s Note: From the Collections highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from publications and historical collections of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). In this post, Points Managing Editor and AIHP Head Archivist Greg Bond investigates the story behind the unique “Trip or Trap” anti-drug playing card deck from 1970.

Trip or Trap Decl Cards
Playing cards from the “Trip or Trap” deck. Images courtesy of the Brodeur Playing Card Collection, American Institute of the History of Pharmacy.

“This Trip or Trap Card Deck is an attempt to educate through facts and ridicule,” wrote public health advocate Dr. Wayman Rutherford Spence about his anti-drug set of novelty playing cards. Published in 1970 by his business, the Spenco Medical Company, the “Trip or Trap” deck was one of many quirky Spenco products that combined humor with pop culture ephemera to educate the public about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and other intoxicants.

The “Trip or Trap” deck adopted a prohibitionist attitude towards drugs, demonized the recreational use of intoxicating substances, and denied the legitimate medical or pharmaceutical use of drugs like cannabis. On an informational card accompanying the deck, Spence explained that “drug abuse has many faces.” Using a common gendered understanding of substance abuse, he wrote that “it is the lady starting her day with a diet pill for a pick-up and ending it with a sedative for sleep, [and] it is the man habitually unwinding with several drinks.” He also linked together “the chain smoker unable to quit… the twelve-year-old experimenting with glue sniffing… the teenager smoking pot… and the hard-core addict shooting heroin.”

Despite the substantial variations among these very different drug-use scenarios, he wrote that each case represented “a threatened person retreating from reality.” Concluding dramatically, Spence informed users of the “Trip or Track” deck that “drug abusers are not blissfully composed, rather they are often deadened, deprived of personality, and all but buried alive in a chemical tomb.”

The “Trip or Trap” playing card deck is one of several hundred pharmacy-themed playing cards in the Donald Brodeur Playing Card Collection at the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. This post is a short investigation into the story behind the “Trip or Trap” deck and its creator Wayman R. Spence, a now mostly forgotten drug warrior and public heath advocate.

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The Points Interview: Daniel J. Robinson

Points Interview Daniel RobinsonCard

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.

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Big Nicotine, Part II: Addiction and the “Cult of Pharmacology”

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its intention to lower the nicotine content of cigarettes to, ideally, “minimally or nonaddictive” levels. Public health advocates celebrated the decision; on the other hand, Big Tobacco investors began dumping shares at the prospect of supplying an ever-more-elastic demand.

Cigarette critics and capitalists alike belong to what Richard DeGrandpre calls the “cult of pharmacology,” a system of belief that dominates American drug discourse. Rooted in modernist faith in understanding the world through scientific approach, by the early twentieth century many considered drug experience to be a straightforward process of brain and body chemistry, without regard for concepts we might recognize today as set and setting. Historically contingent forces divide drugs into “angel” and “demon” categories, but their effects are similarly reduced to biological mechanism: “‘soul’ was reinterpreted as ‘mind,’ and ‘spirit’ was reinterpreted as ‘biochemistry.’”

But cults are given to blind faith, so it is worth considering the extent to which substances are to blame for problem use.

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Big Nicotine, Part I: Big Tobacco’s Drug Problem

Just over a week ago, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced what new FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottileb called “a cornerstone of our new and more comprehensive approach to effective tobacco regulation”: an initiative to reduce the nicotine content in cigarettes to “minimally or nonaddictive” levels. The 2009 Tobacco Control Act gave FDA authority to reduce any “additives, constituents…, or other component of a tobacco product.”

Obama Tobacco
President Barack Obama signing the Tobacco Control Act

Public health historian Robert Proctor was thrilled. “This is exceptionally good news for tobacco control, and for human health,” he wrote last week in the New York Times. Not so for companies like Altria and British American Tobacco, whose stock value fell within an hour of the statement (and recovered somewhat before the closing bell).

Big Tobacco was reeling for good reason: nicotine is the primary addictive component of cigarette smoking, not incidentally the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. The addictive capacity of nicotine is now practically indisputable. For over sixty years, government regulators, independent researchers, and tobacco company scientists have investigated the extent of that capacity and the danger it poses when delivered via tar-laden cigarettes.

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The Strange and Complicated History of Patenting the E-Cigarette

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is brought to you by Camille Higham, a patent attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, with extensive experience researching e-cigarettes. 

About a year ago, I wrote about e-cigarettes in a blog that is woefully neglected now. At that time, I thought e-cigarettes may fall between a novelty and a passing fad. Now I am still skeptical that e-cigarettes will ever supplant traditional cigarettes, primarily because of how deeply tobacco is entrenched in our history, for better or worse. E-cigarettes are undeniably increasing in popularity, and if they do edge out tobacco-based cigarettes, ironically, it is the Big Tobacco companies, with their deep pockets and market influence, who may be best equipped to make that happen.

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World War I, Part 5: Tobacco in the Trenches

Unlike my previous posts, today’s entry focuses on the war as a whole rather than on a specific army. Tobacco was ubiquitous at the front and ever-present in prewar society. The war ushered in several changes to European smoking culture: Pipes began to fall out of fashion as cigarettes became more popular, and women smoked more in the postwar era as wartime social changes led to questioning of nineteenth-century gender norms. This is most famously embodied in the the “Flapper” archetype.

At the war’s outbreak, pipe smoking was the most common form of tobacco smoking in the militaries of Europe. Soldiers usually received packets of loose tobacco and matches with their rations. Pipe and cigar smoking were also associated with nineteenth-century ideas about masculinity. Cigarettes, although available, were not nearly as popular as pipes and cigars during this period. The war ushered in nothing short of a revolution in American and European tobacco cultures. It was also a period where modern cigarette advertising began.

The Tsarist regime asked civilians to donate tobacco for the war effort. Source: http://riowang.blogspot.com/2011/06/killer-game.html
The Tsarist regime asked civilians to donate tobacco for the war effort.
Source: http://riowang.blogspot.com/2011/06/killer-game.html

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Aesthetics and the Failure of the FDA’s Cigarette Warning Labels

Last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a series of nine new warning labels for cigarettes. The labels were designed around a series of graphic images intended to highlight the dangers of smoking – a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his throat, a pair of diseased lungs next to a pair of healthy ones, a mouth covered with cancerous lesions, and so on.

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The images were surprisingly explicit, and prompted a storm of controversy. The FDA also instituted rules requiring that the labels cover one-half of the front side of all cigarette packages, that the images be rotated regularly, and other similar measures. Not surprisingly, the tobacco companies sued to stop the new rules from going into effect; not long after, a district court judge in Washington ruled that the new regulations were unconstitutional on free-speech grounds. The labels never went into effect, and the people of America continue to be free to buy cigarettes without having to confront images of diseased lips and people blowing smoke through holes in their necks. 

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