Robert Proctor is a historian at Stanford University, and author of the book, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition. He is the first historian to testify in court against the tobacco industry, and only one of two historians who currently testify on behalf of smokers injured by tobacco products. His commitment to his work has personally cost him $50,000 in legal fees to defend himself against the industry as they have subpoenaed his emails and unpublished manuscript.
According to Mr. Proctor, what we now know about the history of tobacco is because of the disclosure of the tobacco industry documents through ligation. Over 700 million pages of formally secret documents reveal the design of the cigarette, and the effort of the industry to create a device that would create and sustain addiction. Since the 1940s, the industry has spent tens of billions of dollars designing cigarettes – information from the industry’s own documents.
According to Proctor, the cigarette is maintained by an elaborate collaboration with academics. Scholars from every disciplines have collaborated on keeping the tobacco industry going. They serve as witnesses in court, and are paid well for their information. The advise on the manufacturing properties, as well as advice on the marketing or sale of the products.
Mr. Proctor also lists the five most common myths regarding smoking:
Myth #1. Nobody smokes anymore. According to Mr. Proctor, statistics don’t count people who don’t count. It’s not the rich or the educated who smoke, it’s the poor. Also, look at the social smoking trends such as cigars or hookah. People would never have a Marlboro party, but hookah is just as addictive and just as deadly.
Myth #2. The tobacco industry has turned over a new leaf. The industry has never admitted that they lied to the public, or marketed to children, or manipulated the potency of their product to sustain addiction. A U.S. Federal Court in 2006 found the American companies in violation of RICO racketeering laws, and nothing has changed since then.
Myth #3. Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. Most people start smoking at 12 or 13, or younger in other parts of the world. Do they know that cigarettes contain radioactive isotopes, or cyanide, or that free-basing agents like ammonia increase the effect of nicotine?
Myth #4. Smokers like smoking, and so should be free to do it. And the industry has a right to manufacture cigarettes, even if defective. According to Proctor, this is not a struggle between liberty and longevity. Most smokers wish they could quit. Cigarettes take away your freedom. Tobacco industry documents compare smoking not to drinking, but to being an alcoholic. People should be allowed to smoke wherever it doesn’t harm anyone else, but the cigarette of today is too dangerous to be produced or sold.
Myth #5. The tobacco industry is here to stay. If it wasn’t for China, where 40 percent of the world’s cigarettes are made and smoked, global tobacco use would be declining. Proctor believes once China recognizes the financial cost of cigarettes, they will be banned. Proctor goes on to say that in the U.S. the industry spends about $400 per smoker per year on special offers, coupons, sign-ups and other direct mail approaches, something that non-smokers may not know about.
Proctor’s admits the reason for his research is personal. Three of his grandparents died from smoking. But he considers his work more than just research. According to Mr. Proctor, “It’s part of my sense of what it means to be an ethical human being, using my expertise to do what’s right for humanity on the planet.”
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