Do you even know what you're smoking?

Does your doctor smoke Camels? If so, he's an idiot.
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Dear Think readers, I'm publishing this open letter I wrote to the WHO and the European Commissioners in charge of mitigating the tobacco harm that exists in the current form of "tobacco products".

Just a quick introduction. My name is Jeff and I’ve worked in publishing and advertising creative on three continents. I’ve designed cigarette promotional packaging, photographed and designed advertising campaigns for those promotions and even worked a stint as the Group Creative Head at an ad agency charged with the work of the largest Tobacco manufacturers.

In the 90s, the last golden age of tobacco marketing, I sustained several magazine titles off the revenues from all the major international cigarette brands, and even organized parties on their behalf, including Think Magazine.

I never understood the cigarette addiction, and ignored it with the arrogance that only a non-tobacco user could demonstrate… I didn’t care about all the smokin’ fools around me, until my eyes burned from too much smoke in the bar.

It is with disgust in my mouth when I saw a tobacco executive testifying in regards to youth tobacco marketing that “it isn’t like we’re walking up and sticking cigarettes in these kids mouths” while having photographs of exactly that happening at raves. I’ve always allayed that disgust by a staunch belief that freedom of choice…that smoking was healthier than fascism. 

It never entered my mind that there really is no choice, once you start smoking corporate “tobacco products”. And yes, this includes all those “roll your own” shag versions of these tobacco products.

Before passing away, my mother had been undergoing cancer treatment for her lifelong tobacco addiction, one that began back in the days of “My doctor smokes Chesterfield” advertising, when cigarettes were promoted as a cure for the flu and the tobacco companies were well into their program of doctoring the “tobacco product” for maximum addictive effect.

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I’ve been giving the matter of harm reduction much thought in regards to a new solution that smokers, tobacco companies, the health system and tax coffers will find amicable.

As prohibition is very difficult and the habit quickly returns with the change of political moods, taxation needs, and underground behaviours, there needs to be a NEW method of reducing the damage caused by modern tobacco products by minimizing the damage done.

The tobacco illusionThe tobacco illusionMy patriarchal ancestor was a London merchant who established the first large plantation in the United States – “Bennett’s Welcome” – the second land patent of the Virginia Company after James Town.

It was a short lived venture that has the singular distinction of being the first massacre of colonialists by the natives.

Maybe they were pissed off for the settler’s theft of the whacky tabacky… who knows… the 60 survivors fled to the original colony for shelter just two months after arriving in the New World.

From those earliest days there has been a romantic notion that tobacco is a natural and beneficial plant, nature’s cure for toothaches – and worth fighting over. It was immediately rushed to the lips of the Virgin Queen for approval and investment.

Legend and lore tells us that the fragrant leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana, were harvested and dried in the smoke-fired curing houses, ending up graded and crumbled, shagged and chopped, to be smoked in a pipe or rolled for smoking.

And that WAS true… once upon a time.

The romantic notion of the share cropper working his fields, of the African slaves, well, slaving away to meet the growing demand, has nothing whatsoever to do with the modern reality of the cigarettes we consume by the millions.

I recall touring a tobacco processing plant in Mississippi when I lived in the south, and how I discovered that tobacco manufacturing is more akin to paper production, that the tobacco in your favourite brand is nothing more than processed paper laden with dozens of toxic chemicals.

Let’s look closer at exactly what tobacco is.

Indian smoking magicIndian smoking magicSome say that the original tobacco plant was discovered about 18,000 years ago and was so strong it was a test of endurance in right-of-passage ceremonies to smoke it all day.

When Europeans first had contact with the Indians, tobacco usage was not non-stop, like with chain smokers today.

This is no accident.

Over time, the tobacco industry has modified both the delivery systems (from pipes enjoyed while relaxing, to cigarettes suitable for consuming while working), and from just men, to women (by PR associations with the Suffrage movements, when ‘Votes for Women’ cigarettes were launched), and to children (via cartoon imagery like Joe Camel).

The product itself has also been modified. I have read and heard from a Native American Indian that the original tobacco was not so addictive, and was medicinal.

Today’s “tobacco products” are nothing more than paper sprayed with chemicals and additives during the “tobacco curing process”. 

There are the additives to make the tobacco smoke cloudy-white instead of transparent blue, to advertise the cigarette craving to others off in the distance. There’s the chemicals that cause the cigarette to smoke itself, (a major cause of house fires), and many other chemicals added for flavour, preservatives, brain chemistry triggers, etc.

This 1949 documentary, Tobaccoman’s Sixth Sense outlines the early evolution of the manufacturing process to industrial scales, which today has progressed beyond the scope of this 10 minute film. “This experimental research never ends” the narrator informs us:

But watching this, I have come up with an idea which might be revolutionary, and could spread globally, although I’m not sure it hasn’t been considered already. If it hasn’t been considered, it might be due to the prohibitionist drive having been so strong. In effect, what I’m about to suggest could change the whole game, and the legislative tools to implement it already exist.


Tobacco is an agricultural product that when used as designed causes illness and death. Using existing agricultural purity laws, by setting the purity levels of the tobacco in the cigarettes to the high
est level, you engage in harm reduction by reducing consumption.

When the tobacco companies can only sell 100% UNADULTERATED pure tobacco, you can gradually change behaviours, without the political backlash of consumer revolts or negative economic side effects. A concerted effort to highlight impurities and GMO and pesticides etcetera will win consumers to the demand for purity.

The benefits are:
1) The cost of manufacturing goes up, making it less profitable for big tobacco, reducing their war chest for anti-legislative lobbying, and encouraging them to consider other products to manufacture.

2) Pure tobacco is less harmful than the current cigarette products with over 600 ingredients added. (Liggett head Bennett S. LeBow said in a statement that along with blended tobacco and water, the 26-item L&M list includes high fructose corn syrup, sugar, natural and artificial licorice flavor, menthol, artificial milk chocolate and natural chocolate flavor, valerian root extract, molasses and vanilla extracts, and cedarwood oil. Less familiar additives include glycerol, propylene glycol, isovaleric acid, hexanoic acid and 3-methylpentanoic acid. Removing these chemical vectors changes the smoking experience, including the serotonin vector that causes chain smoking).

3) It drives up the price per pack, which Singapore has proven reduces frequency of consumption, and also can be taxed at a higher percentage for health care cost mitigation.

4) Pure tobacco is less addictive. The tobacco companies manipulate the chemical content to achieve optimal satisfaction and addiction potential from one cigarette. That includes “spiking” the nicotine levels. Pure tobacco eliminates this doctoring of cigarettes, and reduces the frequency of consumption. Eventually you can even withdraw under a professional’s care.

While I’m not sure these can be considered the final solution on the problem of modern tobacco consumption, I hope someone might find these ideas useful in the effort to reduce the damage done to lives from the modern cigarette while still maintaining freedom of choice. I myself have begun an informal experiment, of providing friends I know who smoke too much with Mirandas, Mexican cigarillos which are like little cigars, but milder.

They enjoyed smoking them and reported they felt more satisfied and had less desire for additional cigarettes for extended periods of time, but eventually they began craving the other chemicals, the addictive additives, and reverted to chain smoking.

But the doctoring of “tobacco products” and smoking naturally reduces “freedom of choice” – an irony they rub in your face with Marlboro’s “Freedom” branding.

If there are any medical students, or anti-tobacco research groups out there who want to help promote this novel method of harm reduction, drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Just as the tobacco companies have worked to make cigarettes more addictive, hopefully the public agencies and the citizenry can work to openly make tobacco LESS addictive.

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