Italy's Love Affair with the Cigarette
Carl Ipsen



First Puff

Smoking is cool. Much as we might want to deny the fact, for a century or so cigarette smoking carried with it a series of positive connotations: glamour, maturity, self-assuredness, sophistication, independence, rebellion, toughness. Smoking has also been 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. But even in the twenty-first century and in the face of shocking rates of disease and death, that 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 the 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 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 now. 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, for a number of reasons. One is that 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 pointless 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 history of tobacco in the West is intimately tied up with the larger histories of economic and social development over the past five hundred years or so. Tobacco was one of the first products that Europeans encountered while conquering the New World, and so it is linked with the story of that conquest and subsequent empires. It fits into a material history of exploitation that included gold, silver, timber, herring, potatoes, corn, and other products that reshaped the Western world. Arguably these are the products that forged Western modernity, whatever that means, and, more concretely, laid the basis for European domination of the globe after 1500. It was access to New World resources that made the imperial project feasible and fueled the European innovations on which that project also depended.<1 The role of tobacco in that domination may be less obvious than some of the other items listed, but it is part of the process nonetheless.

Europeans learned to smoke tobacco from the indigenous American peoples, and so that acquisition constitutes one of the earliest examples of cultural transmission between New World and Old. But Europeans quickly put the weed to their own uses, and while tobacco consumption in Europe may at first have been pharmaceutical, it quickly became a consumer product that, like tea and coffee, could accompany both work and leisure. Carole Shammas has studied these new imported “groceries” (which also included sugar products) of the early modern era (c. 1500–1800) in England and America. She finds in fact that tobacco was the first of the new mass-consumed commodities in Britain and was already widely used there by the mid-seventeenth century. Indeed, by about 1700 and for much of the eighteenth century, annual British per capita consumption hovered around 2 pounds, or enough for every person to have a pipeful a day.<2 This is a remarkable figure and helps to highlight the uniqueness of the British experience. Italian consumption, by comparison, reached that level only in about 1950 (see chapter 4), a mere 250 years later! Arguably, tobacco led the way in defining new consumption patterns that transformed the European economy.

Tobacco, then, whether grown in the New World or the Old, played an important role not only in the growth of European trade, but also in the establishment of a consumer culture. Jan de Vries places the development of new consumer aspirations, for tobacco but of course for many other goods as well, at the heart of what he has called the industrious revolution. At the risk of simplification—he should be used to it by now—that revolution saw the European household (or more specifically the northwestern European household) develop new strategies of both production and consumption that helped realize the desire to acquire market goods of various sorts—manufactured or imported, for example—during the eighteenth century. One of those goods was tobacco, and de Vries recognizes, as does Shammas, that it caught on very quickly (more quickly, for example, than tea or sugar). De Vries in fact supplies figures still more startling than those Shammas presents. Dutch consumption seems to have far outstripped British levels around 1700, possibly exceeding 2 kilograms per person per year (so well over 4 pounds as compared to the English 2 pounds). Tobacco, it would seem, and the desire for it, played an important role in Europe’s unique economic development, at least in the dominant northwest. As de Vries concedes, though, little can be stated with certainty about the rest of Europe, and there is scant evidence that these imported groceries were much consumed in the Mediterranean region.<3 Smoking probably became a significant habit in Italy only in the late nineteenth century.

Tobacco use in the West after 1500 also involved a psychological dimension, one that arguably went beyond that of, say, potatoes or corn. As Richard Klein describes it:

The introduction of tobacco into Europe in the sixteenth century corresponded with the arrival of the Age of Anxiety, the beginning of modern consciousness that accompanied the invention and universalization of printed books, the discovery of the New World, the development of rational, scientific methods, and the concurrent loss of medieval theological assurances. The Age of Anxiety gave itself an incomparable and probably indispensable remedy in the form of tobacco: it was an antidote brought by Columbus from the New World against the anxiety that his discoveries occasioned in the Eurocentered consciousness of Western culture, confronted by the unsuspected countenance of a great unknown world contiguous with its own.<4

In this view, smoking starts to look a bit less pointless.

As we have seen, tobacco took hold in Britain and the Netherlands and some other regions of the northwestern industrious/industrial core plus British America around 1700. The next important step, the one that ensured tobacco’s eventual success around the globe, came in the late nineteenth century with the invention of the cigarette. Flue curing of tobacco (which produced a milder, more easily inhaled product) and the invention of a machine that could roll thousands of cigarettes per hour produced an inexpensive and easily consumed nicotine delivery system, starting in the United States in the 1880s. Cigarettes, as opposed to pipes, cigars, or snuff, became an indispensable soldier’s companion during World War I, and by about the 1930s, cigarettes (flue cured or not; as we explore, flue curing caught on more slowly in Italy) were the tobacco product of choice in many countries. In the post–World War II era, cigarettes came to represent over 90 percent of all tobacco production and consumption in most countries.<5

It is because of the changes of habit brought about by those technological developments that Allan Brandt has titled his fine work on smoking in 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.”<6 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 observes, “There is nowhere in the world that has not succumbed to the attraction of the cigarette.”<7 British consumption in that century in fact nearly matched that of the United States, and it is no surprise that the richest literature on the history of smoking looks at the Anglophone national contexts.

It was also the cigarette century in Italy, though with significantly different rhythms and modes. This book explores the way Italian society navigated that century (again more or less) and seeks 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 I have investigated.

At the beginning of the cigarette century, say around 1900, Italy could not match British or American wealth, and tobacco consumption there reflected that fact, though Italy was already emerging as a significant producer. As everywhere else, smoking in Italy was initially an elite and male pastime. During and following World War I, 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 (Hitler roundly condemned it), and consumption was fairly flat during the ventennio (twenty years of Fascist rule). As in other periods, any temptation to curb smoking was tempered by the considerable income that the state derived from the practice. But after World War II, the bel paese (beautiful country) 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 took on special meaning in the context not only of the economic 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, though 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 had led to earlier declines in smoking in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Much of the literature on smoking, including some of the best, treats tobacco as an evil, a position that is not surprising. From the point of view of public health, tobacco, especially in the form of the cigarette, was the scourge of the twentieth century and may be so for the twenty-first as well. And as if it were not enough to be purveyors of vice and death, the tobacco industry, and in particular the US tobacco industry, has gone to great lengths to complicate public understanding of the dangers of smoking, advertised some of its products as less dangerous and even sought to make cigarettes more addictive than they already were. As important as that side of the smoking story is, it leaves something out. In particular, it pays relatively little attention to what encourages people to smoke and what smoking means in social and cultural terms to both smokers and nonsmokers alike. Nicotine addiction and passive smoke are only part of the story, and there are unquestionably strong psychological factors that add to the allure of smoking and constitute its benefits; there must be benefits or no one would smoke. These factors include emulation of peers or role models, social camaraderie, perception of the glamour of smoking, and rebellion against authority (which might be parental, patriarchal, political, or ecclesiastical), or simply the desire to make a nihilist statement that “the rules don’t apply to me.”<8

The standard work on the history of smoking in the United States may now be Allan Brandt’s The Cigarette Century (2007).<9 Brandt traces the rise of the cigarette as a dominant product of modern consumer culture, especially in wartime. He covers the spectacular rise of the US tobacco industry and its aggressive and often deceptive promotion of cigarette smoking. Smoking among Americans in the postwar years was ubiquitous and nearly inescapable, indeed almost universal. That situation began to change with American and British studies that established a link between smoking and disease. In particular, the US surgeon general’s report in 1964 initiated a radical cultural change in the perception of smoking and smokers. The industry fought back, and Brandt devotes considerable space to the uniquely American story of industrial malfeasance, political maneuvering, and legal wrangling that has surrounded tobacco in the United States for the past half-century.

Matthew Hilton tells a similar story for Britain in his much-cited Smoking in British Popular Culture, 1800–2000 (2000).<10 Predictably Hilton spends less time on law and politics than does Brandt; no other country can match the United States in this regard. And he devotes more attention to understanding “the motivations of ordinary men and women when their behavior does not correspond to the apparently rational expectations of the late twentieth century.”<11 He is particularly interested in the conflict between the liberal independent individual and the interventionist state as it plays out in the history of tobacco use and its eventual regulation: the right of the individual to smoke versus the right of the state to impose limits on where and when one might smoke and to discourage smoking using taxation and age limits for purchasing tobacco. Hilton traces the changing cultural meaning of smoking, starting with how Victorian elite male society justified a consumerist, and so feminine, practice, and including the particularly British concerns about the dangers of smoking among children and the possible link between smoking and national degeneration even prior to World War I. Among the other peculiarities Hilton highlights are the class associations of different cigarette brands; by comparison, and perhaps not surprising, brands tended to cut across class in the United States.

Both Brandt and Hilton provide good coverage of cigarette advertising in the two nations that were certainly the leaders in this regard. Similarly Britain and the United States led in research on the negative health effects of smoking, and the important work of Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill in the United Kingdom and Ernst Wynder and Evarts Graham in the United States is covered in these books, as is that of other researchers.<12 Both works chart the rise of the antismoking movement and antismoking sentiment following the revelations of the 1950s and 1960s. Finally, for our purposes, using the British Mass-Observation Surveys, Hilton explores the postwar attempts to understand the various explanations or motivations for smoking and the benefits of smoking: soothing of nerves; calming the spirit; an antidote to boredom, anxiety, depression, or loneliness; oral gratification; compensation for other cravings (eating, kissing, sex); and the aesthetics and tactility of cigarette smoking.<13 These are all topics to which we return.

Hilton devotes a fine chapter to women and smoking (and one also to children and smoking). The work on women has in some sense been superseded by two more recent books devoted specifically to that topic: Penny Tinkler’s Smoke Signals (2005) and Rosemary Elliot’s Women and Smoking since 1890 (2008). Together they give a rich and full picture of the history of women and smoking in Britain, and while they do of course speak generally to the issue of smoking history, I address them instead in my discussion of women and smoking in post–World War II Italy in chapter 7.

Richard Klein, a professor of French literature, and Jason Hughes, a sociologist, take a rather different approach to the history of smoking than, for example, Brandt or Hilton. That difference is immediately evident from the titles of their respective books: Klein’s Cigarettes Are Sublime (1993) and Hughes’s Learning to Smoke (2003). Klein’s ode to the cigarette, now over twenty years old, was written when antitobacco sentiment was on the rise and is in some sense a response to what he sees as a new puritanism. In Klein’s words, “I became persuaded that cigarettes are a crucial integer of our modernity and that their cultural significance is about to be forgotten in the face of the ferocious, often fanatic or superstitious, and frequently suspect attacks upon them.”<14 For Klein, cigarettes are sublime in a Kantian sense; they provide a “negative pleasure” that lies precisely in their futility and the fact that they are dangerous. Indeed, he claims that if they were not dangerous, they would not hold the same sort of fascination. Yet while Klein’s work celebrates the cigarette, it does so not in order to recommend smoking—Klein himself is an ex-smoker—but rather to recognize their benefits and the important cultural and social role they have played. “It is their uselessness,” he writes, “that ensures the aesthetic appeal of cigarettes—the sublimely, darkly, beautiful pleasure that cigarettes bring to the lives of smokers. It is a pleasure that is democratic, popular, and universal; it is a form of beauty that the world of high as well as popular culture has for more than a century recognized and explicitly celebrated, in prose and poetry, in images both still and moving.”<15 Much of Cigarettes Are Sublime explores those celebrations—in Baudelaire, Mérimée, Svevo, Sartre, and the film Casablanca, among others—and in that is something of a model for sections of this book.

Klein predicted at the time that the pendulum of repression might eventually swing the other way, reversing the demonization of smoking that characterized the 1990s. Given the continued popularity of smoking among young men and, especially, women who mix defiance with the now inevitable guilt associated with the practice, there is reason to believe that something of that sort may be taking place. And as others have pointed out, some of the attempts to regulate cigarettes, and especially to prohibit young people from purchasing or using them, seem to have backfired.<16

Jason Hughes is also interested in the social-psychological dimension of smoking and so the role that smokers themselves have in the construction and maintenance of their dependence. Without downplaying its importance (and tragedy), most would agree that there is much more to smoking than biological addiction. Hughes in particular traces how tobacco use has changed over time, starting with its original use among indigenous Americans. He explores what he sees as a transition from using tobacco to lose control or escape normality—indigenous American smoking of very strong types of tobacco—to its use as an instrument of self-control, epitomized by the mild cigarette. In this regard he places tobacco use in the context of what Norbert Elias has called the “civilizing process.”<17 According to Elias, the modern period has been characterized by ever greater demands for self-restraint. Recalling Klein’s comments on the Age of Anxiety (i.e., the modern period), tobacco, and especially cigarettes, proved to be important tools in exercising that sort of restraint. As Hughes puts it:

Tobacco use can be seen as a unique instrument of self-control: as involving both control by repression (to calm the nerves, to combat stress) and, increasingly during the twentieth century, control by stimulation (to stimulate the mood, to “shape the body”). Indeed tobacco use can be seen to constitute both control by repression and control by stimulation simultaneously: the suppressing of hunger pangs to stimulate the development of a thinner body. The paradox is that externally, by social standards, the body may be judged to be healthier as a result of smoking—the thinner body, the controlled body is, up to a point, also viewed as the healthier body.

Hughes also links smoking to the concept of informalization, again from Elias. Briefly, the twentieth century has seen a gradual process of informalization in the West (e.g., scantier bathing suits and more revealing modes of dress), but rather than indicating a decline in social control, these developments are instead characteristic of a society in which a high degree of self-restraint is taken for granted. Notably the cigarette has played a role in this regard, most obviously, perhaps, in the fact that smoking is generally taken up by women precisely in tandem with the informalization process.<18 Together, Klein and Hughes provide a guide to understanding the functions smoking has served over the past century or so for both individual smokers and societies at large.

To the observations of Brandt, Hilton, Klein, Hughes, and others, I add some relative to what emerges from my own 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 nonsmoking and would remain that way into the twentieth 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 the women’s movement. 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 in Britain (1970s) and Italy (1980s or 1990s). 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 its 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 indexes 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 reveals something about the socioeconomic history of that country. This evolution takes us to the relatively low smoking rates of today, 20 percent of adults or lower, though that is still a lot of smokers and a huge public health problem.

It is hard to say how low that number will go. Given the apparently renewed fascination with smoking among young people (and, it seems, especially young women) in the more advanced countries and its renewed association with glamour and toughness in movies, there is reason to fear that the smoking scourge will stay with us for some time. It appeals to what Hughes calls nihilist cynicism: “Part of the appeal of smoking, for specific groups of smokers, is that it is seen as a risk-taking activity. Crucially, it is a risk for later in life, not for the here and now. It can be seen as a way of expressing that ‘I am not investing in my future, I am living for now.’<19 As I will propose, nihilist cynicism is a quality that varies across time and space. It was a notable characteristic in postwar Italy but has declined notably in that country over the last couple of decades.

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 the United States. 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 1970s, 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, 1960s, and 1970s that transformed the country in terms of wealth and brought about a series of social and cultural revolutions; 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 United States in the 1980s; that was also the decade of the so-called sorpasso (in 1987), when Italian total and per capita GDPs exceeded the British figures for the first time (they had been only about half of Britain’s immediately after World War II).<20 As 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.

As to the rest of the world, the so-called developing nations, many of the countries in that group are still on the upward curve of the cigarette profile I have traced here, the one where increasing wealth and greater freedom for women translate into increased cigarette consumption. Certainly that is what Philip Morris is counting on.

I used many sources in this book. 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, this book is at once social, cultural, political, and economic history.

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 from the point of view of both Italians themselves and the country’s many visitors. Smoking was a harmless pleasure indulged in with relative abandon for most of that century: hence the “love affair” in my title. And as I recount, 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 began to fade only in the 1980s. Arguably, the affair ended with the antismoking law of 2005 (though there is still some furtive trysting).

This book follows a more or less chronological trajectory over its nine chapters with thematic foci that include gender, poverty, risk, and smuggling. Each of those chapters is named for a cigarette brand, except chapter 1, which is named after a cigar; the reason for those choices should become evident in the reading. Before World War I, Italian smoking was dominated by cigars and so the iconic Toscano. The period from World War I to the 1970s saw the dominance of Italian brands: dark Macedonia and then the cheaper Nazionali and finally the blond MS. The end of the cigarette century saw a turn to American brands, especially Marlboro. The text is also complemented by over sixty images, including a section of color plates (identified as CP).

There has been some controversy of late over the issue of historians working as expert witnesses for law firms representing the tobacco industry. Other historians (who have themselves been compensated for work done on behalf of plaintiffs in these cases) have been highly critical of the sort of guided research that these firms have contracted.21 I was employed by one of these firms and for about a year carried out research on smoking in Italy, a topic on which I had not previously worked. The research related to a suit against a major American cigarette manufacturer brought on behalf of an Italian who had migrated to North America in the early 1960s and had been a heavy smoker; by the time of my involvement, he had already died. As is usual in these cases, the law firm wanted me to find out about Italian knowledge of the dangers and addictive nature of smoking. My research for the firm focused primarily on the immediate postwar to the 1980s or so, the period when the plaintiff had smoked, first in Italy and then North America. At the law firm’s expense, I was able to hire five research assistants (two at my home institution and three in Italy through personal contacts) and set them to work perusing primarily periodical literature (newspapers and glossy weeklies) for the decades in question. Ultimately I wrote an “expert report,” which is in this book’s appendix. The trial ended in a summary judgment in favor of the tobacco company. I was never deposed, nor did I testify in court.

It was a curious experience (and lucrative for a midcareer academic in the humanities). I didn’t feel guided much by the law firm except in the posing of those two questions: What did Italians know when about the health risks of smoking and the addictive nature of cigarettes? As my handlers probably well knew, we found considerable coverage in the Italian press of the studies being done in Britain and the United States, and Italy too, on the link between lung cancer and smoking starting in the early 1950s. The firm influenced neither my choice of assistants nor the material at which I chose to look. At a certain point, well into the research, they did provide me with the findings of another researcher. These were volumes of photocopies of newspaper articles. Many of them I had already found. Many others were useless as the research had been apparently done using a keyword technique, and so included pieces on, for example, a house fire because the article’s title included the word smoke (fumo). The firm did not encourage me to look at tobacco industry documents, nor did I think to do so at the time. I have done so since for documents relating to Italy. I did look at advertising, though tobacco advertising was banned very early in Italy and in any case was never so widespread (or interesting) as American advertising. I did find some striking cover and other images that I include in this book. But in the end I am surprised by how little of the original material I have used, presumably because my own research questions have gone beyond those that were originally proposed to me.

If we ask then whether reasonably well-read Italians (or Americans or many others) had access to accurate information about the dangers of smoking from about the mid-1950s, we have to conclude that they did. What that line of questioning leaves out, however, is the contrary message, promoted by the tobacco industry and others, that those dangers could be questioned (or doubted) and that smokers were encouraged to take heart (poor choice of words) thanks to various strategies that might mitigate those dangers (though of course ultimately did not)—most important, filters and low-tar and nicotine cigarettes.

The history then of the Italian “debate”—a debate primarily for the doubters—over the dangers of smoking is charted in the chapters that follow. 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. This book takes 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 antismoking law (2005) that, to the amazement of some, came to be described as the country’s most beloved law.


1. See, e.g., Pomeranz, The Great Divergence.

2. Shammas, The Pre-Industrial Consumer in England and America, 77–81.

3. de Vries, The Industrious Revolution, 149–64, 182.

4. Klein, Cigarettes Are Sublime, 27.

5. For general histories of smoking and tobacco see Gately, Tobacco; Goodman, Tobacco in History.

6. Brandt, The Cigarette Century, 2–3.

7. Klein, Cigarettes Are Sublime, 4.

8. For one discussion of research on the benefits of smoking, see Krogh, Smoking.

9. Other worthy candidates for that title include Kluger, Ashes to Ashes, and Proctor, Golden Holocaust.

10. Smoking is starting to capture the interest of historians working on other national contexts, including this book. For a fine example in this regard, see Neuburger, Balkan Smoke.

11. Hilton, Smoking in British Popular Culture, 8.

12. The pathbreaking studies of both pairs of researchers appeared starting in 1950.

13. Hilton, Smoking in British Popular Culture, 125.

14. Klein, Cigarettes Are Sublime, ix.

15. Ibid.,17.

16. Males, Smoked.

17. Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, vol. 1: The History of Manners Oxford: (Blackwell, 1969 [1939]).

18. Hughes, Learning to Smoke, 118.

19. Ibid., 133–35

20. See, e.g., “Lies, Damned Lies, and Italy’s GDP,” Economist, 27 February 1988, 4–9. According to Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development figures instead, the sorpasso appears to have taken place in 1980 and lasted for four or five years: Maddison, The World Economy, 40–41, 52–53, 62–65. For our purposes, the precise date is not of great importance. That gross and per capita figures could cross in tandem is due to the fact that the two countries have nearly identical population size.

21. See, e.g., Kyriakoudes, “Historians’ Testimony”; Proctor, “‘Everyone Knew But No One Had Proof.’