Thursday, February 27, 2014

Virginia Berridge's "Demons: Our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs"

Virginia Berridge is Professor of History and Director of the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London. She has published widely on the history of illicit drugs, smoking, and alcohol and has worked in both historical and non-historical settings.

Berridge applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Demons: Our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book Demons, Our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco and drugs tells how new technology led to mass production of beer and spirits, especially whisky, in the nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, whisky was the most popular spirit in England , promoted by advertising and labels which became household names. It was a consumer product.

This page is part of a chapter in the book where I discuss the key role of technology in pushing the substances- alcohol, tobacco and drugs –down different paths in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Alcohol and tobacco became mass market commodities but opium did not, at least not in the same way. The invention of the Bonsack machine in the 1880s had an impact on tobacco. It enabled the mass production of the cigarette, which became a leading consumer commodity in the early twentieth century. Soldiers smoking in photos of the First World War testify to that change. But technology had a different impact on drugs such as opium. The invention of the alkaloids of morphine, codeine and heroin in the nineteenth century and the development of the hypodermic syringe saw a medical rather than a mass market model come into play. Opium had been a drug with wide cultural usage in the first half of the century but increasingly it was restricted to medical usage and control.

The role of technology is one of a number of factors which had this differing impact on the substances. I also talk in the book about the role of social movements; and of fear, whether of ethnic minorities-the Chinese and their opium smoking-, or of women consuming alcohol; the differing role of professional interests; and the dynamics at the international level.

Such issues have not gone away. In the final chapters of the book, I show how they have continued to help determine responses in the present, and the changing of boundaries between the substances. Technology has a role now through the rise of methadone as a substitute medication for drug users. For tobacco, the promotion of nicotine replacement therapy and more recently the electronic cigarette, delivering nicotine only, have demonstrated the compelling role which technical change can have. This technology has underpinned new directions for both these substances and the rise of what has been called ‘harm reduction’ approaches in policy which aim to mitigate the bad effects of substances rather than trying to stop use altogether.
Learn more about Demons at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue