Friday, February 17, 2012

Robert N. Proctor's "Golden Holocaust"

Robert N. Proctor is Professor of the History of Science at Stanford University and author of Cancer Wars, Racial Hygiene, and The Nazi War on Cancer. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, and reported the following:
Yes, it certainly can be true that the part reveals the whole, the mega- in the microcosm. On p. 99 of Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, in the midst of a chapter on “Sponsoring Sports to Sell Smoke,” inside a section called “Product Mythology and the Cost of Converts,” we hear talk about how the makers of Camel cigarettes used a promotion called Camel Genuine Taste Mission to “convert” some 15,600 smokers to the Camel brand, via exposure to what R.J. Reynolds called its “product mythology.” Converts were urged to join a “Camel VIP Club,” requiring no more than preference for that particular brand. The company then used a “Convert-o-meter” to assess how different strategies could be used to generate converts at different costs.

“The cost per convert for motorsports, for example, was $1,064, whereas biker events generated converts for about $779 each. Sponsorship of pool cost nearly $2000 per convert.” Conversion specialists were hired to coordinate such activities, and in 1994 Reynolds even “entertained the idea of hiring strippers to smoke and display Camels at strip joints. The document unveiling this plan, drawn up by the company’s Cultural Initiator Task Force, referred to the strippers as ‘Camel ambassadors.’”

Every company of course performed such calculations, part of an effort to estimate how much bang could be had for a given advertising buck. All of this should be considered in light of the fact that cigarette manufacturers still today claim that they’ve never advertised to get people to smoke, their goal is only to get people to change brands. The industry’s own documents tell quite a different story, however. The net effect is that Americans still smoke about 350 billion cigarettes every year, enough to make a continuous chain that could circle the earth some 800 times. Some people seem to think that the tobacco epidemic is a thing of the past, when in reality it has only just begun. This book explores how that began and how it might end, with this one tiny slice from one page giving you a glimpse into the hidden world of smoke.
Learn more about Golden Holocaust at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue