An End to “Organized Tobacco?”

“The days of organized tobacco around the world are numbered,” Amos Hausner, head of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, said earlier this year. He was speaking at the first Israel Conference on Tobacco and Health.

“Today, we are in the midst of an irreversible process that will lead to the termination of organized tobacco,” said Hausner at the event in Tel Aviv in June. “The environment will be completely tobacco-free. This is what people all over the world want.”       

Oh, if only what Hausner said will happen!

For the tobacco industry continues, as ever, aggressively promoting its deadly products.  It has been focusing on developing countries in Southeast Asia, notes The Economist. In an article last year, “The Last Gasp,” the magazine also noted: “Tobacco firms see growth potential in the region’s low rate of women smokers. Across Southeast Asia fewer than one in ten women smoke, compared with 40-70% of men.”

Children remain a target of the tobacco industry, says the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (  It tells of billions of dollars spent by tobacco companies annually “to promote their products and many of their marketing efforts directly reach kids.”

As to the “Toll of Tobacco Around the World,” the group’s website declares there has been “a global tobacco epidemic of preventable death, disease and economic harm to countries and families,” and, “If current trends continue, tobacco will kill one billion people in the 21st Century.”

In a speech in September, Susan M. Liss, executive director of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, noted a report that had just been issued by the Federal Trade Commission in the United States that showed that cigarette distribution in the nation had declined by 10 percent in 2009, a result, she said, of the 62-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax that took effect in April of that year.  It “is powerful confirmation that cigarette tax increases are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking,” she said.

Still, “the tobacco companies continue to spend huge sums to market their deadly and addictive products.” In the U.S. alone, this amounted to $8.5 billion in tobacco industry marketing in 2010—“nearly $1 million every hour.” Or eighteen times, she said, what governments in the U.S. spend “to reduce tobacco use.”

“The continuing high level of tobacco marketing show why we need aggressive action by all levels of government to stop the tobacco epidemic,” said Liss.

She advocated more jumps in tobacco taxes, a key weapon in the U.S. and around the world, to discourage smoking. The tobacco industry, however, has been doing what it can to stifle this strategy. For example, a proposition put before the voters of California in June to add a $1 tax on a pack of cigarettes was narrowly defeated after a $47.7 million advertising campaign led by tobacco giants Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.

In his presentastion, Hausner, the son of Gideon Hausner, who as attorney-general of Israel prosecuted mass-murderer Adolph Eichmann, linked the tobacco industry to “the banality of evil,” the term used by Hannah Arendt in the title of her book on Eichmann.

Hausner said the companies have known their products kill, but continued to not only market them but to make them deadlier. “Unlike the Nazis, who were motivated by hate, anti-Semitism and vicious racism, the tobacco companies are motivated by greed,” he said.  An attorney, he spoke about future lawsuits against the tobacco industry going beyond the current basis—damages—and being based on “crimes against humanity, of homicide…”

Much of the world today is aware of the lethality of tobacco products.  As Norwegian physician Gro Harlem Bruntland, director general of the World Health Organization, said years ago: “A cigarette is the only consumer product which when used as directed kills its consumer.”

But it has taken so long. For decades the tobacco industry flatly denied any connection between smoking and cancer. The advertising with which it saturated the press even presented doctors claiming cigarettes were harmless. Meanwhile, as a result of the massive advertising, mainstream media long kept silent on findings of a tobacco-cancer connection. Coupled with the advertising was aggressive public relations.

Two Jews were major figures in the tobacco saga. One was Edward Bernays who liked to refer to himself as the “father” of public relations. A nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays was born in Vienna and raised and educated in the U.S.,  becoming a U.S. citizen. Out of an office in New York City, he ran his PR operation.

Among his clients were the American Tobacco Company, and a major campaign for this tobacco giant involved Bernays spreading the smoking habit to women. A pivotal event occurred in 1929 when Bernays arranged for a group of female models to join the Easter parade in Manhattan and, on his signal, in front of eager photographers, light up Lucky Strike cigarettes—“torches of freedom,” Bernays called them. The press went for it. “Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of Freedom,” reported the New York Times.

Bernays linked smoking to the fight for women’s rights—and it worked.

In his 1928 book, Propaganda, Bernays wrote: The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country…We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…”  In a later essay, “The Engineering of Consent,” in 1947, Bernays wrote of how it was necessary to manipulate people because they are “fundamentally irrational” and thus can’t “be trusted” to make rational decisions.

And there was, on the side of truth, George Seldes, widely considered “father” of independent investigative journalism in the U.S. Born in 1890 in the Alliance Colony, a utopian community in New Jersey of Jewish emigres from Russia, Seldes carried the idealism of that community with him through his very long life. He died at 104.

Although a major reporter and noted foreign correspondent for the U.S. mainstream press, he became outraged with the corruption of it and wrote critical analyses of the situation including the books Lords of the Press and Freedom of the Press.

Seldes was especially known for In Fact, the investigatory journal he put out out between 1940 and 1950. The weekly’s s subtitle: “An Antidote to Falsehoods in the Daily Press.”

The tobacco industry, and the failure of the mainstream press to report on the deadliness of its products, principally because of cigarette advertising, was a main target of Seldes and In Fact.

His first cigarette story ran on January 13, 1941 and was about a 1938 study—which had gone unreported in the mainstream U.S. media—by Dr. Raymond Pearl of Johns Hopkins University that showed heavy cigarette smoking severely limited one’s life-span.

The article began: “Tobacco shortens life. Between the ages of 30 and 60, 61% more heavy smokers die than non-smokers. A human being’s span of life is impaired in direct proportion to the amount of tobacco he uses, but the impairment among even light smokers is ‘measurable and significant.’  The facts for the foregoing statements come from Johns Hopkins University, department of biology. They constitute one of the most important and incidentally one of the most sensational stories in recent American history, but there is not a newspaper or magazine in America (outside scientific journals) which has published all the facts. “

“For generations there have been arguments about tobacco. Moralists preached against cigarettes. Scientists differed,” the piece went on. “But in Feb. 1938 Dr. Raymond Pearl, head biologist, Johns Hopkins, gave the New York Academy of Medicine the scientific result of a study of the life histories of some 7,000 Johns Hopkins cases which, for newspapers, should have constituted a story…The Associated Press, United Press and special correspondents of New York papers heard Dr. Pearl tell the story. But a paragraph or two buried under less important matter, in one or two papers, was all the great free press of America cared to make known to its readers, the consumers of 200,000,000,000 cigarettes a year. “

What followed were article after article detailing other scientific studies linking smoking and illness and death—particularly from lung cancer—and the failure of the U.S. press to report on these studies and this connection.

Seldes, further, exposed in In Fact a clause in advertising contracts that tobacco companies had with U.S. newspapers that said that “no news and no adverse comments on the tobacco habit must ever be published.” And he blasted the tobacco industry for its false advertising claims.

At long last, the U.S. media caught up with George Seldes.

And press exposure, coupled with firm governmental actions, have made a big difference.

It is fitting that Amos Hausner, the son of Gideon Hausner, is in the lead fighting “the banality of evil” that the peddling of tobacco constitutes.  And much still needs to be done to end what indeed has been, and unfortunately continues to be, a crime against humanity.

About the Author
Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury who has specialized in investigative reporting for 45 years. He is the host of the TV program “Enviro Close-Up,” the writer and presenter of numerous TV documentaries and the author of six books.