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Smoking, dying, and kicking butts
  1. Needs Assessment & Health Outcomes Unit, Central Sydney Area Health Service, University of Sydney, Locked Mail Bag No. 8, Newtown NSW 2042, Australia. criss{at}

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    The smoking life. Ilene Barth. Columbus, Mississippi, USA: Genesis Press, 1997, ISBN 1-885-47822-4, pp 268, US$29.95.

    Why anyone would buy a book like this is beyond me. Perhaps it’s like that fad book 101 Uses for a dead cat, given as a present to cat lovers for shock value. Or perhaps it’s the ideal present for a “die-hard” smoker. The book is a celebration of smoking, a difficult task, I would have thought, in a climate of growing avoidance of passive smoking and increasing revelations of tobacco industry deceits. It is introduced well by the opening foreword: “To the young: don’t even think of smoking. To the hooked: enjoy it while you can.”

    The history of tobacco in this book documents how the English settlers in the New World took to tobacco with a vengeance and is full of sentimental anecdotes of tobacco’s importance and how early tobacco traders were rewarded by European nobility. Anti-smoking campaigners are acknowledged as a historical fact, but overwhelmed by the more frequent mentions of famous and not-so-famous smokers and their nostalgic memories of their smoking. The chapter entitled “The wisdom of smokers on smoking and other subjects” sums up the general idea. Photographs of screen idols smoking, recalling the glamour of smoking in cinema, appear in another chapter. Yet another chapter idolises the “courageous” role tobacco played for soldiers in the various wars, with other chapters telling stories of how writers and musicians enjoyed their tobacco.

    Not surprisingly, very little of this book addresses health problems caused by tobacco. Some key anti-smoking campaigners are mentioned (including pictures appearing in a “Wanted”-style poster with the caption “Tobacco enemy”) such as early advocate Lucy Gaston and Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore. The point of The smoking life is to toast tobacco in the lives of smokers, and too much attention to the health realities of smoking would, of course, rain on the parade. The pleasure smokers report when feeding their addiction is what this book is all about. Not to be given out in cessation groups!

    Dying to smoke. Wendy Kirchner. Melbourne, Florida, USA: Starr Publishing, 1997, ISBN 0-9659188-0-7, pp 160, US$9.95 + $2.25 shipping.

    In contrast to The smoking life, Dying to smoke is a personal story of the death of a smoker, Harry Kirchner, and how this death affected his wife and three children. We all know the statistics and the odds of lung cancer for smokers. What we less commonly experience is the tragedy of this diagnosis, and ultimately death, for the people involved.

    Dying to smoke is a blow-by-blow description from diagnosis of lung cancer in 37-year-old Harry, to death. It is told in the first person by his wife, Wendy. Not much of the important sequence is left out. The text is rich with conversational exchanges, and the doctor’s visits full of anxiety and pain, yet it conveys the spirited battle of the whole family to try to overcome the disease, or at least deal with their circumstances.

    Although the amount of personal detail at times seemed excessive, it is the specifics of this family’s struggle that makes this story so poignant. To be reminded of the human loss cigarettes cause can only strengthen the resolve to do what we can to prevent it.

    Kick butts! A kid’s action guide to a tobacco-free America. Arlene B Hirschfelder. Parsippany, New Jersey, USA: Julian Messner, Simon & Schuster Education Group, 1988, ISBN0-382-39633-2, pp 160, hardcover US$19.95, paperback $9.95.

    As the secrets of the tobacco industry’s targeting of children emerge for all to see, it is refreshing to find an informative and inspiring book intended for children (9 years and up). There are two main sections in this book. The first section is the story of the tobacco industry in the United States. In a very readable way, it covers the early manufacture of cigarettes, the growth of the tobacco industry, free distribution of cigarettes to soldiers, the industry’s targeting of women through emphasising cigarettes as a symbol of freedom and independence, the United States Surgeon General’s 1964 report, and the more recent anti-smoking movement.

    Sprinkled throughout this simple historical review are original quotes from individuals of the time illustrating early opposition to the tobacco industry. These are sometimes quite compelling. For example, a news item is quoted from the South Dakota newspaperWaukonda Monitor in 1935: “Picked by the national 4-H clubs as the healthiest boy in America, Leland Monasmith, eighteen, of Jerauld County, has spurned an offer to permit the use of his name in the cigarette advertising of a nationally known tobacco company, even though he admits he needs financial aid to start his college career.” Even President Clinton is shown in a photo with two boys (six and nine years old) who in 1991 demonstrated how easy it was for children to buy cigarettes, and contributed to the increase of “sting” operations and tightening of legislation restricting sales of cigarettes to minors.

    The book is designed to encourage young people to take action against smoking. The second section of the book gives many examples of how young people in the United States have taken action to make their environment smoke-free. These simple examples include petitions to make their school or shopping malls smoke-free, involvement in sting operations, anti-tobacco resource and media development, youth theatre, and student coalitions. Some suggestions may seem naive or token to veteran tobacco control advocates, but the empowerment of young people through collective action may be a benefit in its own right. Two appendices give basic facts about tobacco and how it harms health, and a list of American resources for young people, including tobacco control web sites and organisations. The American orientation makes it less applicable to young people in other countries. However, as a resource for young people anywhere wanting to be better informed and to do something about tobacco, it’s an inexpensive, reasonable place to start.