Allan Brandt talks about the decline of big tobacco

Historians in the News

In the 1960s and 1970s, Big Tobacco was widely viewed as the model for effective special-interest lobbying.

"My own view is that in many ways, the tobacco industry invented the kind of special-interest lobbying that has become so characteristic of the late 20th- and earlier 21st-century American politics," said Allan Brandt, dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The industry was known for its giant spending on political campaigns and effective lobbyists. The industry's representatives often had experience in politics or close ties to major power players.

"Today obviously, that lobby is much less powerful and successful than it was a generation ago," said Brandt, author of"The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America."

The industry is now facing regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, and although one major cigarette company supported the FDA bill, the legislation is widely viewed as a sign that tobacco is finding fewer friends in Washington.

The lobby began to lose power as the industry lost credibility, Brandt said.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the lobby centered attention on the notion that the science of tobacco was uncertain, and it called into question each medical and scientific finding that came out as it continued to spend"boatloads" of money in Congress, Brandt noted.

In 1964, the surgeon general report officially recognized the health risks of tobacco. At the time, about 42 percent of adults in the United States smoked, compared with about 20 percent today....

As the tobacco industry tries to adapt to the changing market, Brandt predicts it will look to where it can operate in an unregulated environment.

"The future of this industry has been to move its product offshore and to aggressively attempt to open new markets to cigarettes and to really play out what it did in the United States in the 20th century, now in countries in the developing world," he said, noting that the biggest profits for tobacco as a global industry are"not likely to be in more affluent and highly regulated economies."

Although the industry has been fractured in the United States, Brandt said he anticipates a long road ahead for the public health community.

"I think these are victories in what have been called the tobacco wars, but the tobacco wars are anything but over," he said.

Read entire article at CNN

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