Fumo at Columbia, Sept. 9, 2016
I have been a lazy blogger since getting back from Italy. But our academic year starts today so perhaps it is time to revive this page. Today also coincides with the preparation of some excerpts from my book for a seminar I'm giving at Columbia in a couple of weeks. I'm posting those excerpts here:
Carl Ipsen, Fumo: Italy’s Love Affair with the Cigarette. Stanford University Press, 2016 (Columbia Seminar in Modern Italian Studies--September 9, 2016 Presentation)
As an introduction to my Columbia presentation I’m including the book’s table of contents, an abridged version of the introduction and several excerpts. For the sake of brevity I have omitted the footnotes. I’ve chosen the excerpts to highlight the various categories of sources I used in writing the book: popular press; trade press; film and literature; statistics, surveys, and medical studies. At the presentation I’ll attempt to convince you that smoking can tell us something about most of the typical dimensions of historical study: political, social, cultural, and economic.
Table of Contents
Introduction: First Puff
Chapter 1: Toscano: Smoking in Italy before World War I
Chapter 2: Macedonia: Smoking between the Wars
Chapter 3: Eva: Women and Smoking before World War II
Chapter 4: Nazionali: Smoking and Poverty in Postwar Italy
Chapter 5: Camel: Women, Sex, and Americane in the Postwar Decades
Chapter 6: Me ne frego: Smoking and Risk
Chapter 7: MS: Men, Women, and Smoking in the Era of Collective Action
Chapter 8: Marlboro Light: The Antismoking Era in Italy
Chapter 9: Pall Mall: Contraband and Privatization
Smoking is cool. Much as we might want to deny the fact, for a century or so cigarette smoking has carried with it a series of positive connotations: glamour, maturity, self-assuredness, sophistication, independence, rebellion, toughness. Smoking is (alas) an accoutrement of modernity and wealth. Only in the last decades of the twentieth century did a competing vision of smoking as dirty, ugly, wasteful, and above all unhealthy start to gain traction. And even in the twenty-first century and in the face of shocking rates of disease and death, that latter vision has not entirely won out. This book traces the navigation of that transition in a particular national culture, that of Italy. Even in this era of European Union and globalization, we continue to perceive of nations and national cultures as discrete units. No part of the world is untouched by smoking, but each part has interacted with tobacco in its own particular way. In Italy, perhaps more than in many other places, smoking has interacted with the national culture - social, economic, political, and artistic - in profound and telling ways. The cigarette, I would argue, provides a lens on Italian society over time that has few peers among other consumables.
At the risk of a pun, smoking is also a hot topic, at least for the time being. It may never be as fashionable a vice for historical study as, say, sex or gambling, probably because as compared to sex and gambling, smoking has few champions these days and is seemingly on the decline in much of the West. Yet while the practice itself is now widely condemned, the literature on the history of tobacco use continues to expand. There are a number of reasons for this. For one, smoking was long an accepted and even celebrated practice in wealthier societies, a practice that might accompany and enhance both work and play (not to mention sex and gambling). In the movies, the cigarette acquired iconic status. Examination of this seemingly point-less activity reveals in fact a great deal about the societies in which it has been practiced (which is to say all societies). And the recent backlash against smoking - some describe it as puritanical - is no less revealing of contemporary social mores.
The next important step, the one that insured tobacco's eventual success throughout the globe, came in the late nineteenth century with the invention of the cigarette. Flue-curing of tobacco (though slow to catch on in Italy) combined with a machine that could roll thousands of cigarettes per hour produced a mild, inexpensive, and easily-consumed nicotine delivery system, starting in the US in the 1880s. Cigarettes became an indispensable soldier’s companion during World War I, and by about the 1930s cigarettes (flue-cured or not) were the tobacco product of choice in many countries; in the post-World War II era cigarettes generally came to represent over 90% of all tobacco production and consumption. It is because of the changes of habit brought about by those technological developments that Allen Brandt has titled his fine work on smoking in the twentieth-century (more or less) United States, The Cigarette Century. Early in that work, he observes: "there are few elements of American life in the last century that examining the cigarette leaves unexposed. It seems striking that a product of such little utility, ephemeral in its very nature, could be such an encompassing vehicle for understanding the past. But the cigarette permeates twentieth-century America as smoke fills an enclosed room. There are few, if any, central aspects of American society that are truly smoke-free in the last century."
It was of course not only the cigarette century in the United States, and there is no reason to think that the cigarette will be any less effective in exposing other societies, especially those that followed in the wake of US economic expansion in the twentieth century. For as Klein, again, observes: "there is nowhere in the world that has not succumbed to the attraction of the cigarette." British consumption in that century in fact nearly matched that of the US, and it is no surprise that the richest literature on the history of smoking looks at the Anglophone national contexts.
With significantly different rhythms and modes, it was also the cigarette century in Italy; this book explores the way Italian society navigated that century (again more or less) and attempts to understand what smoking and cigarettes can tell us specifically about that society. The smoking history of any country necessarily reflects economic realities, political developments, gender relations, and other societal norms; and those are the areas we investigate below.
At the beginning of the cigarette century, say around 1900, Italy could not match British or American wealth, and her tobacco consumption reflected that fact (though she was already emerging as a significant producer). As everywhere, smoking in Italy was initially an elite and male occupation; during and following the First World War the practice spread down the social hierarchy and became more widespread, though women in that still traditional society rarely smoked and male consumption remained below that of the major Anglophone nations. Fascism, in turn, had an ambivalent relationship with the nicotine vice (while Hitler instead roundly condemned it), and consumption was fairly flat during the ventennio (20 years of Fascist rule). As in other periods, any temptation to curb smoking was tempered by the considerable income the state derived from the practice. After the 1940-45 conflict, instead, the bel paese made up for lost time. Women began to smoke in the era of the economic miracle (starting around 1960), and Italian consumption caught up with the cigarette leaders by the 1980s, not coincidentally also the decade when Italy caught up in terms of wealth. Italian smoking, moreover, took on special meaning in the context not only of the miracle but also of the Cold War and Italy's conflicted relationship with the United States. It was of course in the depth of the Cold War that evidence about the negative health impact of smoking became irrefutable (and nonetheless much refuted). In part because of Italy's relative economic backwardness, but also I argue because of a particular Italian attitude relative to risk, Italians responded slowly to the body of evidence that accumulated from the early 1950s linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer and other deadly diseases; evidence that led to earlier declines in smoking in, again, the US and the UK.
To the observations of Brandt, Hilton, Klein, Hughes, and others, I'd like to add some relative to what emerges from my study as a sort of development profile in the contemporary history of smoking. By contemporary I mean in the cigarette century (and after). Tobacco's widespread use in the late seventeenth century northwestern European core (plus British America), already on its way to becoming the seat of the world's economic and military power, may reveal a different profile, but that is beyond the scope of what I hope to achieve here. The rest of Europe at the time, including Italy, was still mostly rural, poor, and non-smoking, and would remain that way into the twentieth century, which is to say until the cigarette century. The contemporary (or cigarette) profile then sees the emergence of tobacco as a mass consumption item only after the invention and mechanization of the cigarette in the late nineteenth century allows the practice of smoking to spread from the male elite down the social hierarchy and across the gender divide.
The way that diffusion takes place is of great interest and tells us much about the relevant society. My own research suggests that up to a point smoking prevalence among Italian men is more or less an index of wealth or economic development. The level among women instead serves, again up to a point, as an index of gender equality, one might even say that smoking is the collateral damage of women's liberation (see chapter 7). The "up to a point" in my claim about the correlations between smoking and economic development and smoking and gender equality is an important one. In both cases, that point comes inevitably but not automatically following the firm establishment of the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer in the 1950s and 1960s. It probably came earliest in the United States (1960s) and later, for example, in Britain (1970s) and Italy (1980s or 90s). It is the point after which smoking prevalence, at least for some groups, begins to decline. For Italy it also coincides with a moment of economic maturity. When Italy ceased to be a poor country relative to her Anglophone models, Italian men also started to smoke less. More and more Italians stopped smoking because the fact of being able to smoke (i.e. being able to afford it) was no longer particularly relevant; and so instead they began to emulate the more health-conscious leaders in the move to an anti-smoking mentality. Not smoking in some sense became a luxury (just as the fact of smoking had been a few decades before). I have not studied the comparison, but I would not be surprised to find that other indices of privileged consumption, for example vegetarianism, also increase at about the same time that smoking decreases.
Reversing the situation at the other end of this evolution, it is the better educated and better off men who first start to stop smoking. Quitting behavior (or never starting) then spreads again down the social hierarchy and across the gender divide, though with some anomalies as we shall see. In the Anglophone world these observations seem to hold rather well, and today the highest smoking rates are found among poorer women, especially poor single mothers. Italy is likely headed in that direction as well, though for a time the highest female rates were among university-educated women - those rates even exceeded at times the ones for university-educated men - and that variation of course tells us something about the socio-economic history of that country. This evolution takes us to the relatively low smoking rates of today, 20% of adults or lower, though that is still a lot of smokers and a huge public health problem.
Italian smoking trends reflect important cultural, social and economic factors. For much of the twentieth century, Italian society was more traditional than that of Britain or America. Per capita income was much lower, illiteracy was more widespread, and the percentage of the population living in urban settings was lower. Until the 1960s and 70s, many Italians could not afford to smoke even if they had wanted to. Moreover, female smoking was discouraged except among certain urban elites. It is for example nearly inconceivable to think of Italian rural peasant women buying cigarettes in the interwar period or after (and of course there are few of them left today). Italy instead underwent startling changes in the 1950s, 60s and 70s that transformed the country not only in terms of wealth but also brought about a series of social and cultural revolutions; and those changes are reflected in smoking behavior. I do not think it is a coincidence that Italian smoking behavior came to resemble that of Britain and the US in the 1980s; that was also the decade of the so-called sorpasso (in 1987) when Italian total and per-capita GDP exceeded the British figures for the first time (they had been only about half of Britain’s immediately after World War II). Imperfect a measure as this one may be, it coincides well with the moment when Italian smoking behavior took on a "modern" shape: declining prevalence and increased quitting - especially at the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum – and the gradual stigmatization of smoking behavior.
The sources used in this book are many (and include the secondary sources already discussed in this introduction). At various points throughout the text I explore the statistical data and surveys that are available on Italian smoking. I have taken a thorough look at Italian trade publications from their inception (in the 1890s) to the end of the period studied and have gathered whatever information I could on the Italian Tobacco Monopoly. I have also looked at the press, both daily and illustrated for various of the periods studied. To better understand the issues relating to women and smoking I have looked at women’s magazines, etiquette manuals, and depictions of women in fine (and not so fine) art. Throughout I devote considerable space to smoking in literature and film. My hope is that in the end I have written a book that is at once social, cultural, political and economic history. I guess the reader will decide whether or not I have succeeded.
More than once I’ve been asked: “why a book about smoking in Italy?” The easy response is why not? Smoking is just as “encompassing a vehicle for understanding the past” – see the Brandt passage cited above - in Italy as in the United States or elsewhere. Italy, moreover, identified as a smoking culture for most of the twentieth century, both from the point of view of Italians themselves and of the country’s many visitors. Smoking was a harmless pleasure indulged in with relative abandon for most of that century: hence the “love affair” of my title. And as I recount below, public figures ranging from finance ministers to television personalities celebrated Italy’s cigarette habit. Cigarettes signaled Italy’s modernity at the start of the twentieth century and its engagement with the Cold War after 1945. Italian authors from Svevo (of course) to Moravia to Liala to Bassani used cigarettes as key plot elements in their novels. And the same can be said of the films of Visconti, Antonioni, and many others. Cigarettes in Italy could be markers of class – the proletariat Nazionali – and of female emancipation. Cigarettes followed Italy’s Fascist experiment and unfortunate colonial adventures. Italy’s love affair with the cigarette, then, started about 1900 and only started to fade in the 1980s. Arguably, the affair ended with the anti-smoking law of 2005 (though of course there is still some furtive trysting).
The history then of the Italian “debate” – a debate primarily for the doubters - over the dangers of smoking is charted below. So is much else: smoking and Italian political history, smoking and economic development, smoking and modernization, smoking and gender history, smoking and culture (high and low), smoking and youth. The pages that follow take us from the years after Italian unification when industrial developments adopted by the state Monopolio laid the basis for Italy’s cigarette century to the first decade of the twenty-first century when Italy adopted an anti-smoking law (2005) that, to the amazement of some, came to be described as the country’s most beloved law.
Ch. 1, pp. 28-34:
Illustrated Press, More Italian Novels, and Silent Cinema
While Il Tabacco [a trade journal that started publishing in 1897 discussed earlier in the chapter] gives us the impression that smoking was already universal in late nineteenth century Italy, one is hard pressed to find much evidence of smoking at all in the illustrated press of the pre-Great War era. Illustrated weeklies like La Domenica del Corriere and L'Illustrazione Italiana were among Italy's first publications for the masses. Thanks to increased literacy and economic development, they enjoyed ever greater readership at the dawn of the twentieth century. They also provide, through ample advertising, an index of Italy's nascent consumer culture. Indeed we find ads for a broad range of products: from full-page ads, some in color, for products like Sasso olive oil, Campari, American and Italian automobiles, Tot (a digestive aid), and Proton (a fortifying tonic), to smaller pieces promoting home heating, breast augmentation methods, male virility aids, perfumes, typewriters, and a range of patent medicines. In short a panoply of the accouterments of modern life. Smoking, however, seems to play a small role in that life. For while there are occasional small ads for pipes, there seem to be none at all for cigarettes or other tobacco products. The explanation likely lies with the Monopolio that apparently did not feel the need to advertise its products given the virtual absence of competition. Nor was the Italian market of any real importance for imported brands and so would not have justified expensive ads in the illustrated press. Il Tabacco, certainly of much more limited readership than, for example, L'Illustrazione Italiana, does instead rely on tobacco advertising, probably largely to sway tobacconists, and is full of ads for imported cigarettes. Even there, though, the Monopolio doesn't bother advertising in this period, except for one brief run of an ad for Savoia (see figure 1.2).
One can find nonetheless a couple of indirect indications of the socio-cultural role of smoking in the illustrated press. As early as 1910, for example, an ad appears in La Domenica del Corriere for an aid to quit smoking: "Vanda pills - energetic, quick, harmless, unique and insuperable remedy - aid in quitting smoking quickly and without sacrifice." They are sold by a pharmacy in Milan. And a toothpaste ad from 1915 specifically targets smoking: "Smoke all you want my friend, providing that before you present yourself to me, you wash your mouth with DENTOL" (see fig. 1.5). The DENTOL ad specifically addresses the issue of men smoking in the presence of apparently non-smoking women. The Vanda ad, instead, speaks to the addictive nature of smoking (a condition well-understood by Zeno). That said, it is an isolated incident and there is no evidence that these pills caught on or were imitated by others. The craze for quitting cures would have to wait for the establishment of the link between smoking and lung cancer in the 1960s.
The cartoonist for L'Illustrazione italiana does portray smokers with some frequency, for no apparent reason though the casual nature of his use of cigarettes and pipes may attest to the degree of banality they have already achieved in Italian life. The bulk of these papers instead, namely their illustrations and photographs, almost never depict smoking. One reason for that is likely the fact that most of the photos found there are of ceremonial occasions when smoking may have been inappropriate. One rare shot from 1908 depicts a group of men relaxing outside a courtroom during a break in a trial; several men are smoking cigarettes and one perhaps a pipe. And in an equally unusual portrait in that same publication and year, the journalist/novelist/art critic Ugo Ojetti appears with an unlit cigarette in his mouth (see fig. 1.6). The pose he strikes, cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth, would be much repeated, and we return to it below (see ch. 3).
One other pre-war example bears mentioning, namely a Domenica del Corriere article on the "magnificent affirmation" that Italian cigarettes and cigars have received in Argentina where they won a gold medal at the 1910 Buenos Aires World’s Fair. Echoing similar comments in Il Tabacco, this piece discusses the popularity of Toscani and other Italian products among Italian migrants in Argentina.
One does find reference to smoking in pre-World War I Italian literature, including low down on the social scale, but not surprisingly smoking seems to play less of a role in the lives of most literary figures than it does for Zeno [discussed earlier in the chapter] or for others we shall encounter below in the interwar period. The fishermen in Giovanni Verga's I Malavoglia (1881), for example, smoke tobacco in pipes as do the sailors in Gabriele D'Annunzio's "Il ceruscio di mare" from Le novelle della Pescara (1902, but mostly written earlier). D'Annunzio of course pays excruciating attention to detail in his prose including smells and aromas, and yet in a long novel like L'innocente (1891) there is only one reference to smoking (in a dressing room at the fencing club). D'Annunzio was himself apparently a non-smoker which may explain this absence in a work that is written as a first-person narrative and rarely leaves a restricted domestic environment. Luigi Capuana's Giacinta (1879) instead provides a picture of middle-class life in a provincial Italian town. It includes a few references to men smoking cigars, pipes, and even a cigarette when they were still rare. Not surprisingly neither Giacinta nor any other woman in the story smokes.
As compared to D'Annunzio, we know from the photo included above that Ugo Ojetti was a smoker. And indeed we find a number of references to smoking in his work. In his collection of short stories, Le vie del peccato (1902), we encounter a number of smokers: a man on an ocean liner who enjoys gazing at his lover through clouds of cigarette smoke; various people, mostly foreigners, in a Venetian hotel lobby; a whore. Predictably the women who smoke are in some way exotic, either foreign or of questionable morality. Ojetti’s Senza Dio (1894) instead is a scandalous tale of lust (including a lesbian affair), betrayal, Catholic hypocrisy, and lost ideals; it also includes a range of smokers. The protagonist Gabriele, a physician, normally smokes for an hour or two in the afternoons. The middle-aged Contessa joins him a couple of times for her afternoon cigarette, but not the young innocent Pina. Pina's father, the Commendatore, instead takes snuff as does an otherwise unidentified old woman dressed in black waiting to see him; snuff as we know was still used some at the time but was in decline with the younger generation. There is not a lot of smoking in Ojetti, and it tends to be ritualistic (after meals). The ocean liner scene is instead an early use of smoking as a dramatic element.
Luigi Pirandello's Il fu Mattia Pascal (1904) does include a few brief references to snuff, cigarettes, and cigars. Pascal himself smokes, but we are informed of his doing so only once, and the activity plays no role in the plot. There is, however, one interesting philosophical reference to smoking made by his Roman landlord: "We have come here from all over the world to flick the ashes off our cigar, ashes that symbolize the pointlessness both of our miserable existence and of the beloved and poisonous pleasure we derive from them." This is a remarkable passage. While the cigarette is a symbol of modernity for Il Tabacco, for the Roman landlord the more traditional cigar is the companion of all the travelers who come to or end up in the eternal city and so flick their ashes there, an ephemeral way to mark one's presence if ever there was one. Moreover, that cigar symbolizes both the frivolity of our point-less lives - foreshadowing Zeno - but is also identified as a poisonous pleasure, and so fits Klein's characterization of smoking as a negative pleasure.
As we shall read below (ch. 3), the Neapolitan journalist Matilde Serao was something of an advocate for women's smoking c. 1900 and likely a smoker herself. We might then expect to find interesting smoking references in her literary efforts and social investigations. Il paese di Cuccagna (The Land of Plenty - 1890) is a rambling novel about the misery wrought by addiction to gambling on the Neapolitan lotto. Its characters include a young sigaraia who rolls cigars at the Monopolio's factory in Naples and her camorrista (gangster) boyfriend who in fact smokes the Napolitani she presumably fashions, a sign that crime to some extent did pay. The novel depicts some smoking across the socioeconomic range, but includes no female smokers. The heaviest smoker, and one who can clearly afford the habit, is the usurer don Gennaro Parascandolo who smokes Tocos cigarettes, apparently imports. Meanwhile, Serao's best-known work, Il ventre di Napoli (The Belly of Naples - 1884/1904), covers similar territory and is a study of Naples' poor. And while a job at the tobacco factory is a prized one, there is no reference to smoking among this class. Surely her subjects did smoke some, but even a pack of 10 Nazionali at 15 cents must have represented a considerable investment for workers who might earn one lira a day when they were able to find work at all (though loose tobacco would have cost less).
One contention of this work is that until the late twentieth century, smoking provided something of an index of Italian economic wellbeing. So it is worth exploring the economics of smoking in this era a bit further. As mentioned above, Nazionali sold for 1.5 cents a piece while Macedonia, the best selling cigarette at the time went for 3 cents between 1900 and World War I. So for the Neapolitan poor smoking would indeed have been a luxury, but the Neapolitan under-class was notoriously poor. What of workers elsewhere? According to the work of economic historians, Italian wages for unskilled and industrial workers ranged from 1.4 lire per day in 1861 to about 3 lire in 1913; the 1900 average was about 2. So assuming a six day work week, 10 Nazionali per day would cost 1.05 lire per week as compared to a salary of 12 lire, a pretty extravagant habit. By comparison, in Luigi Pirandello’s “Prima notte,” first published in 1900, the bridegroom, a middle-aged public employee in rural Sicily, earns three lire per day, described as “a fortune.” Pirandello’s protagonist might have allowed himself the occasional cigarette, though 10 Macedonia per day would still have eaten up over 10 per cent his wages (nor do we learn from the story if he smokes). As we shall see in a subsequent chapter, a modest smoking habit would continue to represent a significant expense for Italians earning a limited wage into at least the 1950s.
We know of course that children also smoked some, and both early photographs and contemporary accounts testify to street kids puffing away at scavenged butts in the pre-war period. Nonetheless, whereas juvenile smoking was viewed as sufficiently distressing to merit its own section in the UK Children Act of 1908, the phenomenon was overlooked in Italy's own proposed Minors Code of 1912 (never enacted). Nor did Italy's most famous literary delinquent, Pinocchio (1881), ever smoke; for that matter, neither does anyone else in the story. In the other "children's" classic of the Liberal era, Eduardo De Amicis' Cuore (1886), there is also no child tobacco consumption and just a few references to adult males smoking, appropriately, pipes.
Movies set in the period during which they are made provide another possible guide to smoking habits. Italy was a leader in silent cinema until that industry collapsed in the face of American competition in the early 1920s. In sharp contrast to the rarity of smoking in the popular press, all of the films in contemporary settings that I have been able to view (save one) include male smokers, often lots of them (on the occasional female smoker, see ch. 3): smokers at parties and other gatherings, smokers in the street, smokers at the railroad station. Much of this smoking is incidental, though we also encounter moments when a cigarette is lit to defuse a particularly tense moment, and in at least a couple of cases smoking takes on a ritual quality.
To cite a few examples, Tigre Reale (1916) tells the story of Giorgio's passion for the fascinating Countess Natka (Pina Menichelli); following his wounding in a duel, the first thing Giorgio is offered is a cigarette. And in the entertaining serial I topi grigi (The Grey Rats - 1918), a story of gangland intrigue, the underworld figures seem all to smoke, and the hero, Za la mort, is offered a cigarette after being placed in a torture devise that will presumably kill him once he loses the strength to stand up. Surely, if there were a firing squad in one of these films, the victim would have been offered a final cigarette. A later silent example, Addio Giovinezza! (1927), is instead a story of university students and love affairs. The young matriculates Mario and Leone meet on the train taking them from rural homes to the urban university setting. Practically the first thing Leone says to Mario (and meriting a text frame) is "Give me a cigarette;" smoking cements their friendship and figures in many of their subsequent meetings and hours of study. Among the students, smoking is indeed a nearly constant activity.
Silent cinema is in some ways a cinema of exaggeration, and smoking is a useful gesture that, like clutching at one's breast, may be over-represented there. The density of smoking in the silent films reviewed here at times literally clouds the screen. And some smokers puff away in absurdly vigorous fashion (e.g. in the short Troppo Bello of 1909). Still, that presence provides a useful counter to the rarity of smoking in, for example, the popular press at the time. Probably real practice fell somewhere in between the two. And already in this period - few opportunities seem to have escaped these early masters - the cinematic possibilities of smoking, further discussed below, are employed to good effect.
Ch. 2, pp. 45-8
Fascism and smoking
The Fascist relationship with tobacco and smoking was low-key. The Monopolio of course came under the control of a series of Fascist ministers of finance and, as noted above, the Monopolio introduced a few "Fascist" cigarettes. But the regime itself, with the notable exception of Achille Starace (Fascist of the first hour and party secretary 1931-39), seems to have maintained a studied neutrality on the smoking issue. One might have expected otherwise. Mussolini was a non-smoker and reportedly disapproved of the habit, especially when adopted by both his daughter, Edda, and his lover, Claretta. Mussolini's regime did follow the pre-war British example and passed a law forbidding the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 16, though that law seems to have been generally ignored. Certainly an anti-smoking plank would have fit in well with Mussolini's famous call to Italian physicians in April 1932: "I am profoundly convinced that our ways of eating, dressing, working and sleeping, the sum of our daily habits, must be reformed. We must expose our bodies to the natural elements, above all the open air and the sun combined with movement if we truly want, following the imagery of Carducci, to stride among the great shades of the past without a weak breast and contracted lungs." It is easy to imagine that smoking might have been interpreted as contributing to those contracted lungs, even before establishment of the link with cancer.
Moreover, an anti-smoking policy would have constituted another bridge, like the racial policy of 1938, to Nazi Germany. As Robert Proctor has documented, Hitler's Germany introduced a vigorous (and path-breaking) anti-tobacco campaign as part of its war on cancer. That campaign was aimed at both men and women. Men, as real or potential soldiers, owed it to the Reich to maintain their good health, while for women the dictum was a more categorical: "Die deutsche Frau raucht nicht!" – German women simply did not smoke. And yet we encounter nothing of the sort in Fascist Italy. It would appear that the huge amount of revenue generated by tobacco cultivation, manufacture, and sales overcame any anti-smoking inclination, if indeed there was such an inclination.
What little official comment we find on tobacco tends to be positive, and, in the usual Fascist spirit of administrative expansion, the regime created two new institutions related to the promotion of tobacco. The Azienda Tabacchi Italiani (Italian Tobacco Agency - A.T.I.) was founded in 1928 to pursue commercial and industrial activity, especially abroad. In the context of Italy's much expanded tobacco production, the search for foreign markets became a high priority. And there was even talk of establishing factories to manufacture tobacco products in other countries (Switzerland, Argentina) using Italian tobacco. Ultimately A.T.I. would carry out a program of demographic colonization in Libya that brought over Italian peasants to farm Tobacco in Tripolitania (of which more below). The other institute, founded in 1929, was the Ente Nazionale di Protezione del Tabacco Italiano (National Organization for the Protection of Italian Tobacco - E.N.P.T.I.). One of the major obstacles to Italian tobacco exports was poor quality, and a prime task of the E.N.P.T.I. was to address that issue. At its inauguration, Starace, a self-described "impenitent smoker" who hearkened from Italy's leading tobacco province (Lecce), called for a "battaglia del tabacco.” Although this particular battle never garnered the same sort of attention as Mussolini’s much-vaunted Battle for Grain, the fact is that Italy had achieved autonomy in tobacco by the late 1920s, though largely because of pre-Fascist efforts. That fact did not stop at least one journalist, Michele Rambolli in a 1939 piece in the important Fascist periodical La Stirpe, from adjusting the figures a bit and claiming this accomplishment for Fascism.
On a humorous note, the Fascist parliamentarian Umberto Notari published a comic novel entitled L'arte di fumare (The Art of Smoking) in 1934. Notari was best known for a scandalous piece, Quelle signore, written in the early years of the century and consisting primarily of the invented biography of a prostitute (who incidentally smokes almost not at all). He entered the ranks of Fascism by way of futurism and came to endorse the regime's most reactionary tendencies, including opposition to female emancipation and endorsement of Fascist racism. In 1929 he founded La Cucina Italiana which is still today Italy’s leading publication in the field of cuisine. L'arte di fumare instead tells the story of hapless Macedonia-smoking Marino Marini who is married to the daughter of a Roman tobacconist and opens, disastrously, a school for smoking. The attempt, however, allows Notari to paint a caricature of the American tobacco tycoon, James Duke, and wealthy (smoking) young American women (perhaps he had Duke's globetrotting daughter Doris in mind; she was in her early twenties at just this time). L'arte di fumare is an unalloyed ode to smoking, praising its role in love, diplomacy, and other contexts. Notari protests against anti-smoking regulations and ends with a ringing denunciation of medical studies suggesting that smoking might have a negative effect on health.
As mentioned earlier, interest in Libyan tobacco predated Italy's colonization of that territory in 1911. One year to the day after the Fascist seizure of power, a new factory was inaugurated in Tripoli for the production of cigarettes and loose tobacco (though the project itself pre-dated Fascism). Described as the largest industrial enterprise in the colony, it would be run by a separate Libyan Monopolio. Mussolini himself dutifully visited the plant in 1926 and received a ceremonial box with a full line of its products. But production was limited and in fact insufficient to meet even demand in Libya itself.
In the 1930s, the cultivation and manufacture of tobacco in Tripolitania entered into the grander and much trumpeted plans of the regime, though its scale was never especially significant. The transfer of peasant families to Libya constituted part of Fascism's grander demographic policy which envisioned large numbers of Italians toiling under the African sun (eventually in both Libya and Ethiopia/Italian East Africa). One of the earliest of these initiatives was the establishment by A.T.I. of tobacco cultivation in Tigrinna, the highlands of Tripolitania. Starting in 1931 several hundred families, mostly Abruzzesi, migrated there and began farming tobacco. Though small in scale, the A.T.I. colony seems to have been relatively successful.
The timing of the project was not ideal, coming as it did two years into the depression and at a moment when Italian tobacco was in a phase of over-production. Nonetheless, and doubtless because of the will of the regime, the project forged ahead. By the early 1930s in fact, Libyan tobacco cultivation and manufacture exceeded half a million kilograms (as compared to about 30m kg in Italy), though largely because of the encouragement of cultivation by Libyans, rather than the relatively few Italian tobacco farmers. Libyan products did include a new cigarette called the Rosa del Garian after the region of the A.T.I. colony. Predictably, the Garian colony ultimately inspired rhetoric of this sort: "The victory of Italian peasants in this hard test marks the return of plenty to a territory once fertilized by the Roman colonists, a territory that will recapture that ancient bounty thanks to the virtues of those strong men who constitute Fascist Rome." Ethiopia, too, it was hoped, would increase tobacco production under Fascist rule (though locals reportedly had a preference for Lucky Strike). Like most other projects in that short-lived colonial experiment – Italy lost Ethiopia to British troops in early 1941, less than five years after its conquest - not much seems to have been accomplished.
In the context of increased production, Italy began to actively seek export markets for its tobacco leaf starting in the late 1920s. Initially the Monopolio found few takers, owing in part of course to the quality problems referred to above. Political developments in the late 1930s and creation of the Rome-Berlin axis in 1936 instead offered new opportunities. Germany was Europe's largest manufacturer and consumer of tobacco, in spite of the Nazi anti-smoking campaign, but owing largely to climate grew little of the weed itself. Traditionally the German industry had relied on American imports but these became unavailable as the international political situation worsened. Germany's enthusiastic ally, Italy, was well placed to fill this gap, and exports in 1937-8 tripled. On an institutional level, 1938 saw various exchanges between the Italian tobacco institutes and the German Tobacco Institute in Forchheim. The visit of a German delegation to Italy was predictably hosted by Starace and toured Italian facilities throughout the peninsula. That same year saw both dictatorships create International Tobacco Institutes (in Rome and Bremen). And while the onset of the war did cancel at least one planned meeting, these institutes remained active, meeting in June 1942 in Switzerland and October 1943 in Spain. These developments suggest that Hitler's anti-smoking campaign may have been more rhetoric than substance.
Ch. 4, pp. 81-6
Post-war cultivation and production
In spite of the destruction caused by the war, Italian tobacco cultivation and production recovered quickly in the following years. Figure 4.1 describes both trends for the period 1946-2005 and is a continuation of Figure 1.1 (following a gap for the war years when data is incomplete). As can be read from the graph, both cultivation and production increased steadily if slowly in the postwar decades with leaf production a bit above the manufacture of cigarettes and other tobacco products (by weight), except for 1961-62 when harvests dropped dramatically because of a tobacco blight. Monopolio manufacture peaked about 1970 after which demand for domestic cigarettes slowly declined, while leaf cultivation meanwhile continued to increase until 1990, allowing Italy to become a major exporter. After 1990, instead, both cigarette manufacture leaf production declined (the latter in response to EU mandated quotas). Italy nonetheless remained Europe’s major producer of tobacco at the beginning of the 21st century.
We can learn still more from a different data source, namely total sales by Italian tobacconists. Figure 4.2 shows, as we would expect and explore below, steady increase in the post-war years. Those sales of course included not only Italian cigarettes (pipes and loose tobacco accounted for smaller and smaller percentages) but also legally-sold imports. Imports, however, constituted only a tiny fraction of the legal market in those decades and still accounted for only a few percentage points in the early 1960s. It was only after the "economic miracle" – Italy enjoyed dramatic economic growth between 1950 and 1973 - that Marlboro and her cousins captured a significant portion of the Italian trade (and then came to dominate it). For the earlier period instead, Italians still mostly smoked Italian cigarettes. What Figure 4.2 does not capture is contraband sales, estimated as somewhere between 10 and 50 per cent of total consumption. We explore that issue later, and, for example, the anomalous drop in the 1990s that was a function of a boom in illegal sales (see chapter 9).
Studies of per capita consumption (for Italians 15 and over) of legally–sold tobacco suggest that it increased from about 1 kg per person per year (1000 cigarettes) in 1950 to about 2.3 kg in the mid 1980s and then declined. By comparison, US per capita adult consumption was over five kg in 1950, though there were many more women smoking in the US at that time, and declined starting in the 1960s. By the mid 1980s, the US level was down to about 3 kg, still higher than in Italy. The apparent 1980s decline in Italy, however, is likely artificial. As we explore in chapter 9, contraband sales increased steadily from that point into the 1990s. A more realistic consumption picture would likely fill in the dip in Figure 4.2 and show over-all consumption only starting to decline in Italy after about 2000, the point more or less when US and Italian consumption levels also intersected.
Brand availability predictably changed after the war. Those carrying explicitly Fascist references, including O.N.D., A.O.I., and Eia! disappeared – A.O.I. was renamed Africa and sported a bare-breasted Black woman on the pack, a questionable improvement - and the Italianized Giuba reverted to its old name, Giubek. The cheapest brands - Indigene and Popolari - were also dropped as were the subsidized cigarettes for soldiers, Milit. Meanwhile Alfa, a rebranding of Popolari and destined to become a stalwart smoke among the working class was introduced with little fanfare in 1946. With the ouster of the monarchy (voted out in the referendum of 1946), so went the regal cigarettes Sovrana (renamed Due Palme), Savoia, and Regina. Given the growing preference for American cigarettes, the Monopolio introduced a new "American" brand in 1951: Cow-Boy (joining Tre Stelle, the American-style cigarette introduced in 1929 and still available in the 1950s). Other “American type” cigarettes included Stop and OK. By 1951, the range of Italian brands included the list included in table 4.1 (from highest to lowest price). The venerable Macedonia (in its various forms) and Giubek are still on the list, as are the female-oriented Eva, the filtered menthol Mentola, expensive "oriental" varieties - Due Palme, Rosa d’Oriente, Edelweiss, Serraglio - and a host of minor brands destined for shorter or longer lives: Colombo, Stop, Cow-Boy, Tre Stelle, Aurora, Sport. But far and away the most important brands on the list are those appearing at the bottom of the table. For 1950-51, Nazionali, Nazionali Esportazione, Alfa, and Africa accounted for 88% of sales (by weight). The two Nazionali brands on their own took up over half the market while the still cheaper Alfa captured another 20%. Nazionali were the cigarettes of working-class Italy in the post-war decades.
Given the eventual success of American and American-style cigarettes in Italy, a word on tobacco blends is in order at this point. The success of the cigarette in the United States derived in large part from the development of flue-cured Bright (or Virginia Bright) tobacco in the early nineteenth century and the mechanization of cigarette manufacture toward the end of that century. Flue-cured tobacco is milder (less alkaline) than dark tobaccos and so more easily inhaled. The success of Camel (1913) and the other “American blend” cigarettes that followed owed much to the proportion of flue-cured Bright tobacco they contained; indeed it was that blend which distinguished American cigarettes from those produced in most other parts of the world, including Italy. It was no accident that American cigarettes in Italy (often smuggled) were referred to simply as le bionde or blonds.
Experimentation with Virginia Bright in Italy dates back to 1896, and a few years later Italian growers developed a hybrid known as Bright Italia (crossing Virginia Bright and Erzegovina Stolak) that grew well in Italy. Nonetheless production of Bright tobacco in Italy appears to have been limited for most of the twentieth century. The USDA First Annual Report on Tobacco Statistics of 1937 lists no flue-cured tobacco produced in Italy at all for the years 1926-36, but instead fire-cured, dark air-cured, and semi-oriental. Nor does Italy make it on to Nannie May Tilley’s list of importers of American Bright tobacco for 1923-30 (while Belgium with as little as 1m pounds per year does).
According to the Enciclopedia italiana (1937), Macedonia cigarettes were originally produced with Greek, Bulgarian, and Turkish tobaccos but by the 1930s were produced almost exclusively with Italian varieties. Italy’s most popular interwar smoke then was apparently produced with dark and oriental tobaccos, none of which would have been flue-cured. Tobacco blends are generally considered trade secrets and so not generally available (or in any case I have been unable to find much information on them). It appears though that excepting imports, cigarettes made with flue-cured tobacco were pretty much unavailable in Italy, though I have come across one reference to Tre Stelle that describes them as “blond” and the January 1945 Corriere della Sera article cited above refers to the growing of blond tobacco in the allied-occupied south, so it may be that the small production “American type” cigarettes in the post-war decades did include some flue-cured Bright Italia.
The distinctiveness of flue-cured tobacco doubtless helps to explain the success of American cigarettes in Italy after World War II. Dark Italian cigarettes, first Macedonia and later Nazionale dominated the Italian market for most of the twentieth century, and it was only starting in the 1960s that American cigarettes – what exactly qualifies as an American cigarette is also explored below - captured a significant market share in Italy, one that grew throughout the next four decades eventually reaching somewhere in the range of 80%. For a time, the Italian Monopolio fought off the foreign challenge, primarily by the introduction of its MS brand in 1970 (see ch. 7). Like its principal rival, Marlboro, MS was made with what had come to be described in Italy as a “European blend:” Bright tobacco mixed with some Burley and Oriental varieties. By 1970 Italian production of flue-cured Bright Italia (apparently the only Italian flue-cured tobacco) stood at 8.6m kg or 12.5% of total production and was used in a variety of blends (perhaps including Marlboro made under license in Italy). Over the next 12 years during which MS sales expanded to the point that it became the Italy’s leading cigarette, Bright production more than tripled to 28.0m kg (though amounting to only 19% of Italy’s much increased total production). It is reasonable to imagine that much of that increase went into MS as Italian taste shifted significantly in favor of American-style, mostly flue-cured, cigarettes and the older dark varieties fell from favor.
CH. 5, pp. 103-6
The arrival of the americane
Cigarettes began their conquest of Italy, and much of the West, in the early twentieth century, and we have already explored the relative success of Macedonia, Giubek, Nazionali and other Italian smokes in the interwar years. Imported cigarettes by contrast were exotic (and rare) in Italy before World War II, and there is little indication that the major American sellers - Camel, Lucky Strike, Chesterfield - occupied a qualitatively different space than did, say, Abdullah (English) or Turmac (Dutch) or Reemtsma (German). That all changed after the war. The conquering heroes arrived with chocolate bars, white bread, and American cigarettes, considered by most to be stronger and of much higher quality than those produced by the Italian Monopolio. Indeed American cigarettes became such a standard reference that they were simply called "le americane" - sigaretta is a feminine noun so an American cigarette becomes l'americana (f. sing.) - as they came to dominate the imagination of the Italian smoker. Eventually, of course, they would come to dominate the Italian market as well.
Describing the liberation, or the ouster of the Nazis and Fascists at the end of the war, Miriam Mafai writes:
"And then the Americans arrived. The allied army was the wealthiest in the world; all the soldiers (with the exception of the Blacks) seemed to be officers, and all the officers were tall, clean, and happy. They marched up the peninsula, from Sicily to Naples, Anzio, Rome, and then Florence, Bologna, and Milan, bringing with them white bread, canned meat, green pea flour, Camels, and the boogie woogie, inspiring an indefinable and hesitant desire for life, after years of misery and fear."
Mafai, like many others, recalls the arrival of the liberating Americans in terms of the material culture they brought to Italy, and one of the key products they brought was American cigarettes.
One of the great Italian smoking stories is Nino Longobardi's Diary of an Ex-Smoker: written in 1964 it retells much of the smoking history of Italy between the end of the war and that date. Longobardi always preferred imports and first smoked French Gitanes, the smoke of Jean Gabin and still, according to Longobardi, the finest cigarette in the world. American cigarettes, instead, had additional qualities and appealed to him on a deeply emotional level:
"I truly loved cigarettes. I have already spoken of Gitanes, but the love I felt for American cigarettes was profound, a love that I felt with every cell of my body. I adored them. They are deadly and unforgiving. Italian cigarettes are among the worst in the world, but Americans are more dangerous. And yet I loved them blindly, like a lovesick fool."
Longobardi significantly first encountered American cigarettes in Naples shortly after the city's liberation by the allied forces in October 1943 (and so the same environment described in Malaparte's The Skin - see ch. 4):
"America had arrived down at the port. And there I was lining up, lining up for the love of smoking. I remember it clearly. I looked for work not so that I could eat or drink, but to smoke, to have enough money in my pocket to be sure that at any time of the day or night I could buy all the cigarettes I wanted. With a cigarette in my pocket I never felt completely poor."
For Longobardi, as for the wretched youth described by Pasolini, the simple point-less cigarette could, miraculously really, alleviate the crushing psychological burden of poverty (and perhaps even defeat). Longobardi did get a job with the occupying forces, and not just any job but one guarding the American stores of cigarettes. He was paid 1300 Amlire per week (the currency temporarily introduced during the allied occupation) and two cartons of cigarettes, almost three packs per day, a princely ration and as Malaparte describes easily bartered on the Neapolitan black market.
Longobardi’s response to his first americana doubtless resonated with many of his fellow Italians:
"The captain clapped me on the shoulder and offered me a cigarette. It was my first americana, a Camel to be precise. As an ex-smoker I need to describe the experience: the first puff of that americana reached into my very depths. That americana, offered by the conqueror who now became an 'ally,' traveled straight to my heart, erasing memories and creating conflicting states of mind, but ones from which hope already sprang, since nothing better than smoking can nurse or baptize a new illusion..."
This passage eloquently evokes the amnesiac quality conjured by Italy’s unlikely alliance with the United States, the washing away of years of Fascism, war, and suffering. And for Longobardi and many of his compatriots, American cigarettes came to signify freedom, liberation, hope, and the future. American manufacturers would exploit these sentiments over the coming decades during which Italy arguably displayed a greater degree of fascination with the US than much of the rest of western Europe and, with some holdouts both on the left and among Catholics, enthusiastically embraced both American values and American cigarettes.
During the occupation, the allied forces supplied, in an informal and illicit way, the Italian demand for American cigarettes. Once the troops had left, instead, American brands began to arrive from Switzerland, smuggled across the border following a practice that would continue for the next three decades. As already noted in chapter 4, the Monopolio began selling American cigarettes again in 1948, in particular Camel, Lucky Strike, and Chesterfield. An important addition came eight years later in 1956 when the newly redesigned Marlboro brand became available in Italy. The Marlboro familiar to all the world today was introduced by Philip Morris in 1955, and already in 1957 the American company had contracted with Fabriques de Tabacs Reunies (FTR) in Switzerland to produce Marlboros in Europe. Doubtless FTR Marlboros numbered among the various contraband imports that flowed across the Alpine border into Italy, taking advantage of the relatively low cigarette taxes in Switzerland. American cigarettes sold by the Monopolio in the 1950s instead continued to be true imports, coming from the famous factories in Winston-Salem (Reynolds), Durham (American Tobacco, Ligget&Myers), and Richmond (Philip Morris).
American cigarettes of course also figured in post-war Italian films. We have already encountered them a couple of times in the previous chapter: the smuggler in Visconti's La terra trema (1948) smokes Lucky Strike (unknown at the time to the Sicilian fishermen) while the murderer in Germi's La gioventu’ perduta (1947) instead prefers Camels (notably before they were legally available). In both cases, unsavory characters are associated with American brands.
The war-time encounter with americane, something analogous to Longobardi’s experience, instead finds cinematic depiction in Luigi Comencini's Tutti a casa (Everybody Go Home -1960): the 1943 armistice has just been signed, leaving Italian troops stuck behind the Nazi-Fascist lines to fend for themselves. Many doffed their uniforms and headed home, hence the name of the film. In Tutti a casa the Italian officer Alberto Innocenzi regards warily an American officer whom he discovers his family is hiding in their attic on his return: the Americans after all had been the enemy until a couple of days before. His diffidence, however, is overcome by the offer of a Chesterfield. Innocenzi's reaction - he is played by Alberto Sordi - is "Ammazza che forte!" or "Wow! That's strong." (with a strong Roman inflection).
Longobardi's comment that American cigarettes are more dangerous seems to reflect a general perception. In Blasetti's Prima comunione (Father's Dilemma - 1950), there is, as in most Blasetti films, very little smoking. In one significant (and imagined) episode, instead, the protagonist (played by Aldo Fabrizi) shares a taxi with a stranger and offers him a cigarette from a fancy cigarette case with two compartments:
AF: Can I offer you a cigarette? These are American and these Italian.
Companion: I prefer the Italians.
AF: Me too. But you know, there are those who smoke the others.
Companion: Oh no. The Americans are bad for your heart.
AF: And for the throat.
Companion: Yes, for the heart and the throat. I am a physician.
Needless to say, health concerns prevent neither man from smoking. Blasetti's film might suggest early awareness in Italy of the dangers of smoking, but interestingly there is already a way to avoid or lessen that danger: not yet by choosing filtered brands (see ch. 6) but simply by avoiding American cigarettes. Given that the American cigarettes were made with flue-cured bright tobacco, more easily inhaled than the dark-tobacco Italian varieties, there may have been some truth to this observation.
Similarly, in Fellini's I vitelloni (1953), also with Alberto Sordi and already discussed in chapter 4, Leopoldo, “the intellectual,” offers a cigarette to a recent acquaintance: “Can I offer you a cigarette? They are Nazionali. You know, because... the American ones are very dangerous.” Obviously Leopoldo smokes Nazionali for reasons of economy not health, but feels the need to make excuses for not offering a better brand. The idea that American cigarettes were more dangerous does not seem to find much expression in subsequent decades, perhaps thanks to the spread of filtered versions.
Ch. 8, pp. 168-7
The move to non-smoking was not met passively by the tobacco industry, and a number of marketing ploys, that can be traced back to the 1950s and 60s, succeeded in countering the anti-smoking trend. As described in chapter 5, between the mid 1950s and the mid 1980s, filtered cigarettes grew from an insignificant portion of the Italian market to over 90% of all cigarettes sold. The cause for that shift, like the subsequent trend to lower tar and nicotine cigarettes, lay with the mistaken notion that filtered and light cigarettes were safer than traditional ones. Indeed one of the great successes of the tobacco industry was certainly the broad and enduring acceptance of that notion, even by those who might otherwise be considered anti-smoking champions.
While sales of Italian filtered cigarettes began their rise in the mid 1950s, Italian light cigarettes were only marketed starting in 1977, while political attention to tar and nicotine levels grew throughout the 1980s, leading eventually to European legislation and standards. The tragic irony of that narrative is well captured by an odd juxtaposition that occurred in an October 1982 issue of the news and culture magazine L’Espresso. For reasons that remain unclear, between August 1982 and January 1983 the ban on cigarette advertising seems to have been lifted or in any case broadly ignored as the magazine carried frequent full-page cigarette ads (all for imports). In that October issue, an ad for low tar and nicotine Vantage cigarettes (an R.J. Reynolds product) appears opposite an article entitled “Di filtro si muore” (“Filters are killers”). The Vantage ad includes the following text:
“To the 18 million Italians who smoke
How many times have you decided to quit smoking? Many, right?
But how to give up such a deeply-rooted habit?
So you start smoking again and worrying.
Or perhaps you decided to switch to a cigarette with lower tar and nicotine. Chances are you found it lacked flavor and so you switched back to your old brand…
Thanks to a carefully selected blend of American tobaccos, Vantage significantly reduces tar and nicotine without taking away flavor.
Isn’t it the cigarette you’ve been waiting for?”
Of course nowhere does the ad explicitly suggest that lower tar and nicotine cigarettes are safer, but the implication is clear. If you smoke Vantage you can stop worrying (about cancer). The article instead, a review of Giancarlo Arnao’s La droga perfetta, states that there is no evidence that lower tar and nicotine cigarettes are less damaging to health; indeed smokers may engage in compensatory behavior and draw more heavily on low nicotine cigarettes in order to get the desired dose. It concludes: “Smokers, don’t fool yourselves: if you want to live a long and healthy life, you simply have to quit smoking.”
The tar and nicotine sham was not always so explicitly condemned, even by health professionals. Indeed there is reason to believe that most Italian smokers imagined that filters and light cigarettes did offer a degree of protection. Following the never very effective 1975 anti-smoking law, the next important anti-smoking initiative in Italy came from three scientists: pharmacologist Silvio Garattini, oncologist Umberto Veronesi, and epidemiologist Carlo La Vecchia, all of whom had been engaged in research on the relationship between tobacco and lung cancer. In an article describing their initiative, Garattini states that reducing tar does in fact reduce the risk of lung cancer (though not of other diseases), while Veronesi points out that the highest tar cigarettes in Italy are the cheapest varieties - Alfa and Esportazioni – so it is Italy’s poor who are most exposed to risk. A number of politicians interviewed in this regard agree that lowering tar and nicotine levels is desirable, perhaps even via a tar tax like the ones implemented in the UK and Finland. Deputy Alfredo Pazzaglia (of the neo-Fascist MSI) instead echoes Arnao and opines that with lower tar and nicotine cigarettes, smokers would likely just smoke more.
The Italian Tobacconist Federation (FIT) not surprisingly endorsed the optimistic view of low tar and nicotine smokes and explicitly linked the rise of filters and low T&N cigarettes to health concerns. Its journal carefully charted the introduction of new low T&N cigarettes, most notably MS mild and MS light in 1986-87, and applauded the fact that the Monopolio, by expanding the variety of filtered and low T&N cigarettes, was protecting Italian smokers and offering “products certainly less toxic.” The Monopolio’s own 1988 annual report re-affirms its alleged concern for the health of Italian smokers:
“Given that international researchers and health organizations have identified tar as the principal risk factor in cigarette smoking, the Administration has undertaken a vigorous program and in 1987 reduced average tar levels in its cigarettes by 20%... The primary goal of our research activity continues to be improving the quality of our tobaccos from a public health perspective.”
Italians indeed seem to have been especially susceptible to the attractions of low T&N smokes. According to an industry analysis in 1989, “Sales of low tar brands have increased much more rapidly [in Italy] than in other European markets.”
The tar and nicotine issue culminated in some sense with the establishment of European standards, passed in 1990: the maximum allowable tar level in cigarettes would be set at 15 milligrams in 1992 and then decline to 12 in 1997. By 1990 few Italian cigarettes exceeded these maxima – MS were just over 12. In 1992 tar and nicotine labels would also have to be included on all cigarette packs. As opposed to warning labels (required in Italy from 1991), the industry had few qualms with the T&N numbers. Indeed why should they have, as publicizing those levels and describing cigarettes as light, ultralight or mild served as a potent marketing tool. According to a 1987 L’Espresso poll, 31% of readers considered T&N levels on packages to be useless and another 21% thought them a farce [“una presa in giro”]. Alas, the remaining 48% who thought them useful likely included many smokers who felt reassured by lower numbers and kept on smoking. According to a poll from the previous year 43% of respondents still did not believe that smokers exposed themselves to serious risk. Given that Italian smoking prevalence was about 35% at the time, one can imagine that Italy’s 18 million or so smokers corresponded more or less with the population that either doubted the risk of smoking or felt reassured by filters and light cigarettes. In some sense, the scientists were (unwittingly one imagines) playing into the industry’s hand by focusing on tar and nicotine levels (as opposed to the imperative to quit smoking altogether to protect health). Veronesi’s thinking in this regard seems to have evolved by 1992 (the same year that T&N levels appeared on Italian packs and the 15mg tar limit went into effect). At that point he warned instead that low nicotine cigarettes were a trap and might even increase risk due to compensatory behavior. Ironically, given the smoker’s need for nicotine, a safer solution might be high nicotine cigarettes so that the smoker could satisfy his need with fewer cigarettes and so inhale less tar, the primary carcinogen.