As an anti-smoking activist for nearly forty years, I take a back seat to no one in my opposition to the tobacco industry. However, I am skeptical of Jon Wiener's hagiography of anti-Big Tobacco historian Robert Proctor.
For one thing, Wiener endorses Proctor's practice of naming names of historians who have accepted money from the tobacco industry. Yet Wiener seems to regard the $480,000 that Proctor admits having pocketed from plaintiffs' attorneys as if this were an eleemosynary endeavor.
For another, the awful truth is that Proctor, plaintiffs' attorneys and public health professionals alike have all but ignored these uncomfortable questions: What did the health community know about the dangers of smoking? When did they know it? And what did they do about it? The anti-tobacco industry historians Wiener so glorifies have thus ceded much to the other side.
In the past thirty years of tobacco litigation, I have been either the author or the subject of hundreds of articles on the tobacco industry and anti-smoking advocacy in both scholarly journals and the lay press. Yet I have been contacted by only one historian on tobacco, Jonathan Bean, named as one of Proctor's gang of fifty in Wiener's article. Moreover, Bean contacted me for the sole purpose of verifying my allegation in medical journals and the mass media in the 1970s that hospitals had abdicated their responsibility in the fight against smoking and were still selling cigarettes in their gift shops. Bean surmised, correctly, that I would not support the claim that hospitals deserve retroactive compensation from tobacco companies.
There are few if any heroes in the tobacco issue. Historian Robert Proctor is certainly not one of them, in spite of Wiener’s biased and incompletely researched efforts in his behalf.
[The author is the director of the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society.]
Alan Blum, MD
Apr 4 2010 - 10:48pm