Cigarette Nation

Business, Health, and Canadian Smokers, 1930–1975

Reviewed by Kylie Nicolajsen

Posted November 21, 2022

Cigarette Nation investigates the hazy history of how “a vibrant and pervasive smoking culture came to be” in Canada, despite the increasing public awareness of serious health consequences that began in the early 1950s.

In this book, historian and Western University associate professor Daniel J. Robinson aims to clear the air around the rise of the “quintessential modern habit,” exploring a complex intersection of media reports, public policy, commercial interests, advancements in medical research, taxes, social norms, and other factors.

Tracing key periods throughout the twentieth century, Cigarette Nation includes primary-source evidence such as letters, magazine articles, and government records, while incorporating extensive consumer market research. A personal recollection of buying cigarettes for his mother as a ten-year-old boy further links past and present.

Robinson details the dance of truth and denial, the promotion of “safer” cigarettes in light of bombshell medical revelations, and the evolving symbolism surrounding the act of lighting up — from wartime empowerment, to daily productivity, to lung cancer.

Readers of Cigarette Nation will come to understand the factors that created a cloud of public ambivalence around cigarette smoking — a behaviour that was for a time almost universally taken for granted as commonplace.

Buy this book at Chapters-Indigo

This article originally appeared in the December 2022-January 2023 issue of Canada’s History.

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