06 March 2012

Tobacco and Deniability

Father of Spin by Larry Tye, 1998, Excerpts

Bernays worked with doctors who were willing to argue the tobacco company’s side of the story. “The benefits of tobacco are: [1] It is a pleasure. [2] A good laxative after breakfast. [3] Checks obesity by lessening the appetite. [4] Aids nutrition by stimulating the secretory functions of the stomach. [5] It consoles the lonely. [6] It aids contemplation. [7] It is a manual as well as oral activity. [8] It promotes sociability.

Decades later, when the surgeon general and other medical authorities released incontrovertible evidence of the dangers of smoking, Bernays used his talents of persuasion to help undo addictions he’d help build. In 1964, he unveiled a bold and detailed plan to transform smoking into “an antisocial action which no self-respecting person caries on in the presence of others.” To do that, he proposed enlisting moviemakers and radio and television personalities, advertising executives, clergy and doctors, in a bid “to outlaw and eliminate cigarette smoking.”

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