Guide To The “Big Tobacco Blacklist” Theory

How political donors and religious doctrinal friction blacklisted the American tobacco industry

The 1960s was a turbulent time in America. Stability we take for granted today, even in our relatively frustrating times, was not present in even very innocuous situations in the 60’s and 70’s.

While today we tend to consider Catholic and Protestant denominations to consider each other as allies in many causes, it was wildly different back then. In the first few decades of the 20th century, all the way into the mid-century in parts of the US, Catholics actually saw significant violence from hard-wing Protestants. The KKK would not only burn crosses in the yards of black families, or encourage lynchings and the institution of sundown towns, but would also harass white Catholics and denounce them as “Papists”.

The practice of smoking was widespread as well – culturally, it was accepted to smoke everywhere. Planes, restaurants, cars, public places, there was no place in which people were not allowed to smoke.

While there are legitimate concerns around the long-term health effects of smoking, there is a long political history behind the blacklisting of Big Tobacco over the past few decades.

“Big Tobacco”, which is shorthand for the amalgamation of public companies, landed growers, and cottage industry of marketers and businessmen around the industry, was a progressive force in the often-dirty politics of the 1960s, supporting John F Kennedy in his bid for president, against the primary challenger of Lyndon B Johnson who hailed from South Texas, the opposite of tobacco country.

When Johnson lost the primary challenge, and Kennedy was instead nominated, Johnson’s memory and legendary vindictiveness did not forget his former challenger’s support. LBJ was notably cruel and biting against his new boss throughout JFK’s short presidential career, setting him up for failure in many situations. He alienated as many supporters and political connections as possible through a web of contacts within the government and within other organizations, including the institution of organized crime that was on a don’t ask, don’t tell policy with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Hoover himself.

A series of lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers began to assume traction, and over the next few decades a curious pattern emerged. Very few industries, even those considered harmful, have been banned from advertising, but a series of laws were enacted that banned many sorts of advertising. This pattern was unusual in being targeted towards a specific industry.

(As a comparison, weapon manufacturers, liquor manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and even foreign actors are allowed to advertise in various sorts).

It began in the 1960s. The FCC enacted a rule in 1967 requiring stations to air anti-smoking campaigns if they ran cigarette ads. Finally, in 1971, Nixon signed a law into place banning all TV and radio advertising for smoking.

Further restrictions came into play all the way until 1997, when 46 states banned billboard and other outdoor advertising, and in 2010 when sponsorships and even T-shirts were banned.

Serious constitutional law issues were raised by this, but the regulation continues regardless.

Health of cigarette smoking in question

Italy is one of the healthiest countries in the world, with a very low obesity rate, and an average lifetime expectancy of 83.35 years.

It is also one of the countries with the highest smoking rate, with a rate of 23.7% (almost half of which smokers claim to smoke between 10-17 cigarettes per day).

Although declining in recent years, Japan has a smoking rate of over 17%. Yet Japanese citizens have an expected lifetime of 84.2 years…one of the highest in the world!

How, then, is cigarette smoking directly tied to life expectancy?

The answer is: it is not.

There are clear issues with smoking, to be sure, but it is dishonest to look at the pure data and try to tie overall population health with smoking rates. It is simply not correlated.

So what caused the Big Tobacco industry to get blacklisted?

There are many theories floating around why smoking has been slammed so heavily.


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