The Cigarette: A Political History (Paperback)
  • The Cigarette: A Political History (Paperback)

The Cigarette: A Political History (Paperback)

Paperback 400 Pages
Published: 12/10/2021
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Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
Winner of the Willie Lee Rose Prize
Winner of the PROSE Award in United States History
Hagley Prize in Business History Finalist
A Smithsonian Best History Book of the Year

“Vaping gets all the attention now, but Milov’s thorough study reminds us that smoking has always intersected with the government, for better or worse.”
New York Times Book Review

From Jamestown to the Marlboro Man, tobacco has powered America’s economy and shaped some of its most enduring myths. The story of tobacco’s rise and fall may seem simple enough—a tale of science triumphing over corporate greed—but the truth is more complicated.

After the Great Depression, government officials and tobacco farmers worked hand in hand to ensure that regulation was used to promote tobacco rather than protect consumers. As evidence of the connection between cigarettes and cancer grew, scientists struggled to secure federal regulation in the name of public health. What turned the tide, Sarah Milov reveals, was a new kind of politics: a movement for nonsmokers’ rights. Activists took to the courts, the streets, city councils, and boardrooms to argue for smoke-free workplaces and allied with scientists to lobby elected officials. The Cigarette puts politics back at the heart of tobacco’s rise and fall, dramatizing the battles over corporate influence, individual choice, government regulation, and science.

“A nuanced and ultimately devastating indictment of government complicity with the worst excesses of American capitalism.”
New Republic

“An impressive work of scholarship evincing years of spadework…A well-told story.”
Wall Street Journal

“If you want to know what the smoke-filled rooms of midcentury America were really like, this is the book to read.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674260313
Number of pages: 400
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


Vaping gets all the attention now, but Milov’s thorough study reminds us that smoking has always intersected with the government, for better or worse. - New York Times Book Review

An impressive work of scholarship evincing years of spadework…A well-told story. Milov has an eye for detail. - Wall Street Journal

Milov offers insights into the way tobacco companies and their lobbyists exploited America’s federal system to slow down and weaken efforts to cut cigarette use despite growing evidence of the harm it causes…If you are looking for a case study in how regulation and politics shape the US consumer market, The Cigarette more than meets the bill. - Financial Times

A nuanced and ultimately devastating indictment of government complicity with the worst excesses of American capitalism. The Cigarette looks beyond individual consumers and their choices and aims its penetrating gaze straight at the larger phenomena shaping all of our lives: the exigencies of war, the rise of organized interest groups, the fall of government regulators, and the immense, unseen influence of big business. - Scott W. Stern, New Republic

If you want to know what the smoke-filled rooms of midcentury America were really like, this is the book to read…Many readers will find Milov’s treatment of the anti-smoking movement most relevant for understanding political struggles today. - Los Angeles Review of Books

The st​ory of smoking in the United States is usually presented as a struggle between heroic scientists and activists on the one hand, fighting to get the truth out to the public, and mendacious tobacco industry executives on the other, manipulating members of Congress… Milov provides a more interesting and complicated account. - Jackson Lears, London Review of Books

Milov manages to bring fresh insight into how the industry’s power hooked government treasuries, the advertising business and scientists for hire, to trump public health for so long…What Milov adds is a nuanced account of the interplay between corporate machinations and government support for the industry from the 1930s until very recently. - Nature

Cigarettes were widely considered gross and disreputable at the beginning of the 20th century; by the end, they were on their way out of widespread public acceptability once more. In between, they were ubiquitous. The politics of that arc are the subject of [this] fascinating new work of history. - Jezebel

Whether you had thoughts on Stranger Things’ smoking scenes or just got back from your Juul break, read Milov’s book about the history of the cigarette…If the movie Yesterday questioned a world without cigarettes (and The Beatles), this book will make you realize just how different a world that would have been. - Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29

Deftly connects the rise in organized opponents to smoking to food safety, car safety and other consumer rights movements of the 20th century. - Smithsonian

Groundbreaking…Milov intricately unpacks the workings of the tobacco industry in its interactions with farmers, laborers and social movements, a hitherto underexplored area in the history of tobacco in America…Shows us the ubiquity of tobacco in American society, and its central place in the arc of American political and social consciousness. - Adhip Amin, LSE Review of Books

Mixes big-picture academic theory with fascinating, specific details to illuminate the rise and fall of tobacco production…A fine history. - Kirkus Reviews

Milov provides a thoughtful and penetrating analysis of both the tobacco industry and its relationship to government. - Library Journal (starred review)

A revisionist history of tobacco that, at its core, is an indication of the power of civic activism…A fascinating book on a quintessential American product…Above all, this is an important book on the politics and power of citizen activism against industry doubt-mongering and government regulation that worked against citizens’ best interests. - Jaipreet Virdi, Nursing Clio

[An] intriguing history of the American cigarette. - Talha Khan Burki, The Lancet

Breathtaking…Weaves together legal, political, and economic history in a manner that calls for a revaluation of the dimensions of twentieth-century liberalism and the nature of its decline. The book is a compelling exercise in historical synecdoche: its subject is the political history of the cigarette, but its story is that of the twentieth-century American state…Milov recounts this fascinating history with lucid prose and narrative verve. - Reuel Schiller, Jotwell

Sarah Milov’s The Cigarette offers critical new insights into the relationship of American politics to the tobacco industry as it grew by leaps and bounds through the twentieth century. Deeply researched and lucidly argued, this book is essential reading as new electronic cigarettes test historical approaches for regulating the massive harms of smoking. - Allan Brandt, author of The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America

The America of ‘no smoking in public places’ didn’t just happen. With deep, careful research, Milov reveals its long, fascinating history as a high-stakes game with contesting actors. And her story is even bigger than cigarettes; the battle over smoking takes us to all the hot spots of the nation’s twentieth-century political economy. The Cigarette is an impressive achievement. - Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

The Cigarette is a subtle, well-researched story whose findings speak in fresh and often surprising ways to central tensions of twentieth-century politics. With a fine sense of irony, Milov reveals how leading advocates of ‘free enterprise’ depended on tax-funded price supports and quotas that benefited big white growers. A marvelous contribution to American business and political history. - Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

By bringing together the histories of not only tobacco companies, but also farmers, state officials, smokers, and nonsmokers, Milov provides a new way to understand American political economy and its history. A brilliant and original book. - Jonathan Levy, author of Freaks of Fortune

The Cigarette is a compelling and eye-opening book. But it is not what you might expect. Historian Sarah Milov doesn’t retrace the familiar story of Big Tobacco and its back room dealing and deceit. Sure, that stuff is here, but this book is bigger and bolder. Based on exhaustive research, it shows how the cigarette—both as a product and an idea—was central to the building and tearing down of American political institutions and legal thinking in the twentieth century. This book recounts how domestic and foreign policy representatives encouraged people to smoke at home and abroad, how tobacco farmers gave shape to fundamental New Deal notions of statecraft, how nonsmokers emerged as a powerful voice and remade ideas of citizenship and public space, and really, how you can’t understand the American past without understanding the role of the cigarette in it. As Milov guides readers through this exciting and often unexpected history, she introduces them to an amazing cast of characters—from denim-clad North Carolina farmers and the bow-tie wearing C. Everett Koop to Donna Shimp, the crusading New Jersey office worker who zeroed in on the cost factors of smoking and brought the very first lawsuit by an employee against an employer’s smoking policies. This is a history of politics and big ideas and changes that still has people in it. Pulling all of this together into one book is a testament to Milov’s storytelling skills and powerful historical imagination. - Bryant Simon, author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks

Adds much to understanding the role cigarettes played in US history over the last century. - Choice

A brilliant and beautiful book about a dark and smoky chapter in American history…A masterful book penned by a talented historian. Milov takes a story we think we know and shows how messy the politics of anti-smoking really was in the United States. - Bart Elmore, Journal of Arizona History

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