Smoke Damage: Voices from the Front Lines of America’s Tobacco Wars

Or … the more you know, the angrier you get

University of North Carolina sociologist Michael Schwalbe wrote this book, a collection of interviews from cancer patients, smokers, ex-smokers and anti-smoking advocates, after his father, a lifelong smoker, died of lung cancer at the age of 65. This is what he came up with: “Smoke Damage — Voices from the Front Lines of America’s Tobacco Wars.”

“Almost everyone knows that ‘smoking is bad for you.’ The purpose of Smoke Damage is not merely to repeat this message. Certainly, one purpose is to show, in concrete terms, how tobacco-related disease changes people’s lives for the worse, causing not just debilitation and premature death but also death but also emotional suffering for those who are connected to tobacco users,” Schwalbe writes.

This is a powerful book. Really one of the best anti-tobacco books I’ve come across. It really blew me away. And Schwalbe is not a professional writer.
Schwalbe simply allows people to tell their stories with no editorializing on his part. The book is a series of one-page interviews with a number of subjects involved in tobacco, with a stark full page black-and-white photo opposite the text. There are several professional anti-tobacco advocates that I’m personally familiar with included in the book, but most compelling are the stories from people physically devastated by their smoking habit; people breaking through holes in their throats, people hooked up to oxygen. This brings the reader up front and personal with what the war against tobacco is all about. I urge everyone to buy this book or check it out at their local library. You will not be the same afterward.

A common theme comes through all the stories — suffering, self-flagellation and most of all, anger. Anger at the tobacco companies for lying and allowing its customers to be poisoned. A common questioned asked by several of Schwalbe’s interview subjects, “Why was the industry allowed to do this..?”
Rather than give you my two cents, I’ll just let you read their stories yourself. Here is a sampling. These are perhaps about 20 percent of the stories in the book:

“They’ve still got people smoking in the movies. Actors and tough guy detectives — people who look sophisticated. And the people smoking in the movies are romancing the kids who watch them … That’s what makes them smoke. Nobody smokes for nutrition. They smoke for romance, in the head, in the mind. It’s a big game. We fall in love. It can’t be helped.”

— John Eastman, emphysema sufferer who lost his career in radio due to his disease

“I said to my son, ‘Smoking killed your father. It killed your grandparents. It killed your cousins. It killed you aunts and uncles. Why are you doing this?’ And he said between coughs, ‘I don’t know, Mom, I like it.'”

— Monnda Welch, who lost 10 family members to tobacco-related diseases

“I believe that if an alien from another planet — or historians, hopefully, a hundred years from now — were to look at the period from 1964 through to today, they would ask how a society knowing what we knew about what tobacco did — and does — could do so little. The leaders of our scientific and health communities in the 1960s had the incredibly mistaken belief that once the surgeon general had condluded unequivocally that smoking caused lung cancer and other diseases, society would respond. I don’t think it dawned on them that there could be an industry run by people wou would respond with such callousness and disregard. When you examine it, you recognize that if didn’t dawn on them was kind of unscrupulous, amoral foe they were facing.”

— Matt Myers, Campaign for Tobacc-Free Kids

“A lot of people who have laryngectomies wear stoma covers. I go out with mine open. I wear tank tops, sleeveless tops. And the more people that see me and are aware of it, the more who are going to be aware of the facts. I’m going to be like this for the rest of my life, and I don’t want to hide it. The first questions they usually ask me is, did you smoke? And I have to say, yes, because that’s the truth.”

— Terrie Hall, smoker who contracted mouth and throat cancer

“(Teenagers today) buy the illusion that I bought, which is presented through the marketing of the product, that smoking is cool. That if you smoke, you’ll be successful. You’ll be hip. You’ll be rocking. You’ll be macho. You’ll be sexy. You’ve be accepted, wanted, loved. When I do a presentation, I go through that whole list. And then, I go, ‘Bang! Lies! All lies! Don’t believe a word of it.’ I tell them what a con job it is, what’s in the product, the chemicals and carcinogens. You’re making them rich and you’re dying.”

— Alan Landers, former “Winston Man” who died of lung cancer

“When I started smoking, I thought I was bulletproof. What I found out is that I was vulnerable, that life is a fragile thing. I think it’s a gift from God. We’re blessed to have it. As long as smoking was good for me, the heck with anybody else. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I didn’t think it was bad. I never thought it would touch me. I didn’t realize John Wayne died from it. I didn’t realize Babe Ruth died from it. Nobody puts out a coroner’s report that says, ‘Hey, it was cigarettes that put John Wayne in his grave.'”

— Wade Hampton, survivor of larynx cancer

“Maybe, I’m naive, but I didn’t believe the United States government would allow a product like this to be sold and be legal, if they knew it was going to kill you. I also didn’t believe a big gigantic company like Philip Morris would sell ’em if they knew they were going to kill you. I didn’t believe they would lie under oath to the Congress of the United States. But then all these documents started coming out. And I said, ‘I was stupid.’ It was tobacco (that made me sick), beyond a doubt. I had bought their story. I admit, and I feel bad about it. But, I had bought into their lies.”

— Frank Amodeo, throat cancer survivor who has not been able to eat or drink through his mouth for 18 years

“I started looking into the issue and noticed there was very little in the overground press. All that magazines told you was what the ads told you. There was very little in the newspapers. I just thought, what’s going on here? This thing (tobacco) is killing hundreds of thousands of people a year, and nobody wants to talk about it? It looked like a great big fat conspiracy. That’s when I started getting involved in it and looking into things.”

— Gene Borio, former smoker and founder of Tobacco.org, which is where I get most of my tobacco news

“There are some people who disbelieve the connection between heart trouble and secondhand smoke. You’ve got the hardcore smokers who believe they’re not hurting anybody. With them they think it’s a right to smoke. I once had a doctor, he was a guest at my restaurant, tell me he’d seen no studies that could prove that secondhand smoke was harmful to anyone. The guy was a medical doctor. He was a smoker, too. Thank God he was not someone giving me professional help.”

— Mike Clark, non-smoker, bartender who required an angioplasty after breathing secondhand smoke most of his life

“The tobacco companies have hidden the truth from the American public. They have lied, deceived, cheated and caused a tremendous amount of grief and misery. They don’t care aobut our welfare or our health. They only care about profits. And that to me is one of the most unforgiable sins — to benefit from someone else’s misery, simply because of money. I can understand killing for revenge or jealousy. But not greed. I can’t understand that. And that’s what they done for years and year.”

— Shannon Suttle, who lost both parents in their 50s to smoking-related diseases

“It’s the most difficult thing in the world to stop smoking, and that’s what frightened me so much. There were moments that I didn’t think I could because it’s …. more difficult to stop than it is for a junkie to kick smack. From what I went through, where I felt every single nerve-ending on fire and this desperation to get this thing, this feeling back — I understand it. That’s why — and I feel the exact same way about the drinking — that’s why you know, I will take it day by day until it ends, and I will keep looking over my shoulder.”

— Hollywood script writer Joe Eszterhas, cancer survivor, former chain smoker and now an active campaigner to get smoking out of film

“When my wife’s sisters were diagnosed with cancer and one of them died not to long after that — well, one day when I was thinking about it, and something just tore away and I knew I had to leave tobacco alone. That was my cash crop. That was a hard decision. And I have never regretted it. I think it was the right — well, I know it was the right thing to do.”

— O.K. Bellamy, former tobacco farmer who lost several in-laws to lung cancer

“I’m an economist and I ever much believe in the free market. But the free market only works if there are rules that the competitors have to comply with … in the case of tobacco, we’ve totally dropped the ball. So it isn’t really the industry that we can expect to heal itself or fix itself. It’s us. It’s our responsibility … Someone at this morning’s session was talking about their leaders being evil people. Well, maybe their evil. But, if so, they’re evil in virtually every major corporation in the country, because the leadership is interchangeable.”

— Ken Warner, University of Michigan dean, chair of editorial board of Tobacco Control

“What’s beautiful about a long trial is that the jury is not getting snapshots, they’re not getting soundbites, they’re getting the total picture. And the (Engle) jury basically came to understand that the tobacco industry was a bunch of liars. The jury saw through the lies and the duplicity and realized that their intelligence was being insulted. So they knew when they were being bullshitted.”

— Stanley Rosenblatt, attorney for the plaintiffs in $145 billion Engle lawsuit

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2 Responses to Smoke Damage: Voices from the Front Lines of America’s Tobacco Wars

  1. M Cubed says:

    Good Review of an important book, Pepe. Smoking was so obsequious when I was growing up that it was the non-smokers who seemed a bit odd. My best friend lost both parents to lung cancer. My dad had emphysema that complicated his health severely, but he could never give up the cigarettes. Since I grew up around the smell of second-hand smoke, I like it, and I still crave cigarettes even though I have not smoked in ten years. It isn’t strange that people continue to smoke even though they know the risks–because the risks always seem so far down the road.

  2. Lizard Island says:

    Great article Pepe’. I hope more and more people read this book and your blog.

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