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  • Smoking as Statecraft:Promoting American Tobacco Production and Global Cigarette Consumption, 1947–1970
  • Sarah Milov (bio)

In September 1951, six hundred delegates from forty-three nations convened in Amsterdam to discuss the future of the world’s third-largest industry: tobacco. Sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Government, the weeklong series of panels, debates, and discussions centered on the “problems which confront all those throughout the world who are concerned with tobacco from grower to consumer.”1 Topics discussed ranged from the agricultural to the scientific—reports of national acreage cultivation were presented alongside “Studies on the Metabolism of Nicotine in the Body.”2 As statesmen and businessmen from all over the world came together to discuss the future of their industry, questions about tobacco production and about tobacco consumption were never far apart.

Uniting seed and smoker was, of course, the market—a market structured, in large part, by American tobacco farmers. Until 1993, the United States was the world’s largest exporter of the leaf tobacco that went into the cigarettes produced either by private industry or nationalized monopolies around the world.3 In Amsterdam, American farmers were represented by an organization called Tobacco Associates (TA), whose president, John Hutson, chaired the Congress’s economic committee. He painted a very rosy picture of the global [End Page 707] tobacco market—one that was welcomed by an audience that consisted of businessmen and government officials from all over the world. According to Hutson, 50 to 75 percent of the prices that consumers paid for tobacco products—largely cigarettes—went to their respective governments as taxes; these taxes in turn accounted for up 3 to 20 percent of total state revenues. States were becoming more dependent upon tobacco because their citizens were spending more and more on tobacco themselves—between 3 and 5 percent of their total income, according to Hutson. After World War II, many governments and individuals grew increasingly dependent upon tobacco—a fact that observers welcomed as evidence of rising living standards.4

But the growing worldwide consumption of American tobacco leaf inside foreign-made cigarettes was not just the result of general prosperity. Through the Marshall Plan and later through Public Law 480, better known as the Food for Peace program, foreign manufacturers acquired American leaf—and with it a taste for the American-style cigarette. The international tobacco flow was routed through Tobacco Associates, a grower-supported commodity export organization based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and funded by American tobacco farmers. Founded in 1947, TA was enabled and nurtured by state and federal laws. By linking the New Deal–era federal tobacco policy to postwar aid policy, Tobacco Associates helped to safeguard the financial solvency of the tobacco program, while also promoting a taste for American-style cigarettes around the globe. By the late 1970s—as smoking rates peaked in much of the developed world—Tobacco Associates was exporting more raw cigarette tobacco than ever before. In 1978, the organization shipped upward of 625 million pounds of flue-cured tobacco—the primary tobacco constituent of an American-style cigarette—at a value of more than a billion dollars.5 American farmers reaped this harvest before the domestic cigarette manufacturers—“Big Tobacco”—began its turn toward the developing world. Indeed, the postwar efforts of tobacco growers to engineer consumer preference toward the American-style cigarette paved the way for an influx of Camels, Marlboros, and Winstons in decades to come.6 But American growers’ expansive empire proved too unruly to sustain. In Japan, a key export market for American growers, a scientific study allowed public health activists in America to begin to make the case against secondhand tobacco smoke—thereby sowing the seeds of smoking’s decline.

This article traces the origins and operation of Tobacco Associates. Its central claim is that the administrative structure of the federal tobacco program enabled American tobacco farmers to cultivate a worldwide market for their [End Page 708] leaf. Archival materials provide a window into the actual processes of market-making for tobacco, breaking down the mammoth abstractions of “capitalism” and “globalization” into their historicized component parts. I draw upon material from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, the farm organization...


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