Thursday, June 2, 2016

Carl David Ipsen's "Fumo: Italy’s Love Affair with the Cigarette"

Carl David Ipsen is Professor of History at Indiana University. He is the author of Italy in the Age of Pinocchio: Children and Danger in the Liberal Era (2006) and Dictating Demography: The Problem of Population in Fascist Italy (1996).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Fumo: Italy's Love Affair with the Cigarette, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Chapter 5: Camel – Women, Sex and Americane in the Postwar Decades

The cultural landscape of smoking in Italy underwent significant changes after World War II. Chapter 4 explored the link between poverty and smoking in the quarter-century or so after the conflict, a relatively unreflective era during which Italians embraced as a package both prosperity and smoking. Smoking of course had other valences than economic in the era before health concerns came to dominate the discourse surrounding tobacco consumption, and like the association of smoking and relative wealth, or at least the escape from misery, various of those valences were positive. In this chapter, we look at several of these: the symbolism of American cigarettes, continued tension about women and smoking, and the link, both implicit and explicit, between smoking and sex. As we’ll see, these categories overlap and together depict what we might call the Italian celebration of smoking, when smoking in Italy, to use Klein’s term, was still sublime. It was a tradition that persisted into subsequent decades, though ever more contested and subdued by the issue of smoking and health. That persistence owes something to Italian attitudes about smoking and risk, the topic of chapter 6.

Prevalence and Male versus Female Smoking in the Postwar Era

Smoking prevalence (the percentage of the population that smokes), both how it changed over time and the differences between male and female prevalence provides a useful background to a number of topics discussed in the next two…
Page 99 of Fumo is the first page of chapter five: “Camel – Women, Sex and Americane in the Postwar Decades.” As such it looks back at the previous chapter on smoking and poverty and also forward to the following one on smoking and risk. Each of my chapters incorporates a cigarette name in the title. Chapter 5 is Camel because of the fascination with American cigarettes in Italy after WWII (initially Camel, Chesterfield and Lucky Strike were available). American cigarettes constituted a tiny fraction of legal sales in those years but dominated the large contraband market. They were so familiar as to be simply referred to as “Americans” or americane ( These decades – the 1950s and 1960s – coincided with Italy’s “economic miracle” and also constituted the golden age of Italian smoking. More and more Italians could afford to smoke and widespread concern about the health risks were still in the future. Smoking enjoyed, alas, a host of positive associations: relative wealth (or at least escape from poverty), glamour, self-assurance, liberation (for women). In literature and films smoking punctuated all sorts of crucial moments, often sexual ones, standing in for the at the time unshowable act or employed as an antidote for sexual frustration. So page 99 is indeed representative of a large chunk of the book and speaks to the overall approach. It does not give any hints to my discussions of Italian smoking in the early years of the cigarette (after about 1880) and during Fascism. Nor does it look farther ahead to the chapters on the anti-smoking era in Italy, on contraband, and on the eventual privatization of the Italian tobacco monopoly (which controlled production and sales from 1861 to 1998). The book concludes with the successful (and well observed) anti-smoking law implemented in 2005.
Learn more about Fumo: Italy's Love Affair with the Cigarette at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue