Image Credit: above: Marlboro Cigarettes billboard in Los Angeles, CA circa 1976 (Robert Landau / Alamy Stock Photo)

Lighting Up History

When it comes to social hierarchy, smokers are only a few notches above pedophiles. Yes, smokers are bad, they smell terrible, and they cost us money—and everyone knows it.

One would expect the “smokers bad” message to saturate The Cigarette. Surprisingly, author Sarah Milov spends almost no time singling smokers out for abuse. On the other hand, the book includes the requisite virtue signaling throughout to remind us that just like cigarettes, the elite, privileged white patriarchy is bad, too.

Now if your idea of a history of the cigarette involves a deep dive into how tobacco was farmed, how cigarettes were manufactured, why people started smoking, the various marketing pushes over the decades, a concise timeline of key moments, how smoking was perceived in different decades, changing smoker preferences, and other similar interests, then The Cigarette will probably disappoint. On the other hand, if you enjoy meandering through the dense history of New Deal tobacco subsidies, surgeon general reports, anti-smoking activism, and the changing fate of the tobacco industry, all backed up by 964 footnotes, then this book is for you.

Those footnotes jumped out almost immediately, with 56 of them in the introduction alone. As a result of the pervasive footnoting, The Cigarette at times resembles an undergraduate essay, cobbled together through a repeating pattern of sources, quotations,...

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