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This is one book that's certainly not blowing smoke.

By Gregory McNamee

APRIL 20, 1998: 

The Cigarette Papers, by Stanton A. Glantz, John Slade, Lisa A. Bero, Peter Hanauer, and Deborah E. Barnes (University of California Press). Paper, $19.95.

THE SETUP IS that of a mystery thriller: In the spring of 1994, an express-mail box of 4,000 pages of tobacco-company documents turns up on the doorstep of longtime industry critic Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco; the return address reads "Mr. Butts," an undisguised reference to the Doonesbury cartoon character who lives to addict children to smoking. Glantz goes into action: He assembles a team of medical doctors and policy analysts to comb through the papers, which he carefully lodges in the special collections division of the university library so that Brown & Williamson, the tobacco company in question, cannot block public access to them.

The documents are astonishing, describing projects with code names like ARIEL to increase nicotine's kick; they give a behind-the-scenes look at the company's maneuverings around various lawsuits and congressional inquiries, and show beyond doubt that Brown & Williamson, at least, was well aware of the cancerous effects of smoking decades ago, although it maintained publicly that "causation has not been proved and we do not ourselves make health claims for tobacco products," and that nicotine is not addictive. (Smokers may also be interested to know of B&W's experiments with various additives to its products, including benzopyrene, cocoa, and deer tongue, experiments detailed in some of the documents.) The editors' commentary helps make sense of the often arcane papers, which are couched in the language of law, chemistry, and medicine. Even with their help, however, this book makes for hard slogging at times.

"Stall any disclosure by industry as long as possible," one B&W document urges. Difficult as it is, this book, newly published in paperback, yields disclosures that add new fuel to the widening debate about smoking. If you're willing to tough it out, The Cigarette Papers will give you an insider's view of how the tobacco industry works. It's not pretty.

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