How tobacco companies used stress research to trick people into thinking cigarettes were healthy

Originally published at:


Yet more evidence for my contention that Big Tobacco is the most evil industry in modern history – not only because of disinformation campaigns like this but because it created the playbook that other rotten organisations (e.g. Exxon, Purdue Pharma, the GOP) use to sell and defend their toxic products. The Heritage Foundation that’s currently trying to destroy American liberal democracy is cut from the same template as the Tobacco Institute.

I understand that Edward Bernays was somewhat repentant toward the end of his life, but it was too little too late.


I recommend reading Lead Wars by Gerald Markowitz.

The lead and paint industries pioneered many of the tactics later used by tobacco to avoid responsibility for the toxic substance they promoted and profited from. The sequence of lies include:

  • It promotes health
  • It’s not dangerous
  • It needs more study, we don’t know if it’s dangerous
  • It’s only dangerous to dumb people who do it wrong, or in these limited circumstances
  • We didn’t know it was dangerous when we made those claims
  • You can’t prove that individual damages were caused by us
  • It would be too expensive to hold us accountable for the damages, so the costs should be borne by others

And unlike the tobacco industry, the lead/paint industries were largely able to avoid any meaningful accountability. Our older housing stock is still poisoning children yet the cost to deal with that is borne entirely by homeowners, families, and the public coffers.

I’d also say that the fossil fuel industry could probably say to both tobacco and lead “hold my beer” in terms of misinformation, continuation of status quo, avoidance of corporate accountability, and severity of damage. And of course they were in on the whole lead thing too.


True. This guy in particular was a piece of work.

Thomas Midgley Jr. - Wikipedia.

He played a major role in developing leaded gasoline (tetraethyl lead) and some of the first chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), better known in the United States by the brand name Freon; both products were later banned from common use due to their harmful impact on human health and the environment.


Speak of the devil:

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The best propaganda is based on a kernel of truth. Chronic stress is terrible for the human mind and body, and contemporary society induces it in a large swathe of the population.

It’s just nowhere near as deadly as tobacco, the only consumer product that will kill you and those around you if you use it as directed.


This reminds me of a video from Knowing Better about cigarettes, 90 minutes long.

It’s amazing how much the tobacco industry, taken to extremes by capitalism, influenced recent history. Not just the “they knew it was unhealthy yet covered it up for 50 years” thing. Cigarettes also played an influential part in the trading card industry and brand loyalty programs. Tobacco industries even slimed their way into social justice programs, by trying to tie their use to women’s lib and civil rights movements.

What’s even more amazing is that cigarette use was, relatively speaking, a flash in the pan fad. Some people smoked cigars or pipes before the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until cigarette production was heavily automated and heavily propagandized through advertising that it could break into being normalized.


I think World War I made cigarettes mainstream more than anything else. An entire generation of men in the US (and probably UK and other countries) were initiated into cigarette smoking during their service.

You can see that the tobacco companies made all the marketing hay they could out of it, too: