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Commentary: Recommends Jacob Grier’s “The Rediscovery of Tobacco”

25 Sep 2019

I wouldn’t normally recommend a book without reading it in its entirety, but I’m making an exception for The Rediscovery of Tobacco by Jacob Grier, released a week ago (available in hardcover, paperback, or digital on Amazon). Grier, a pipe and cigar smoker, has written about tobacco for years in a range of diverse publications including The Atlantic, Slate, Reason Magazine, and even here at

In a post on his website, Grier explains why he wrote the book, and why it is so timely:

How did things get so bad, so quickly? Well, that’s part of why I wrote the book. The evidence that the anti-smoking movement has become dangerously illiberal has been mounting for years. For the past two decades, this has manifested primarily in alarmist claims about secondhand smoke and boundlessly expanding smoking bans. As smoking has become concentrated among the least well-off, it’s been easy for most people to ignore the stigma that now attaches to the habit and the ways that we increasingly infringe on smokers’ liberties. But as governments react to the moral panic over vaping by banning lower-risk alternatives to the cigarette and threatening to imprison sellers of nicotine products, it has become imperative to question the dominant, dogmatic approach of professional tobacco control.

As I’ve quickly read through the first third of the 220-page book, I found one passage particularly resonant. As someone who enjoys the handmade, artisanal quality of premium cigars, Grier’s exploration of whyin an era when craft seemingly everything is praisedthe same hasn’t happened for craft-made tobacco (specifically, in Grier’s example, pipe tobacco) is a particularly interesting question:

Pipe smoking has not become cool, but it’s easy to imagine that it might have. After all, so many other goods emerged from their twentieth century commodification to be embraced as craft, artisanal, authentic, small batch, etc. The marketing invites parody, but one doesn’t need a long memory to know that things have indeed gotten better. Coffee, beer, wine, cocktails, chocolate, fruits, vegetables, meat, you name it: Practically everything we eat and drink has improved in the past few decades, with consumers rewarding quality and not just convenience. Yet despite the predilection of chefs, cooks, servers, and bartenders to smoke, tobacco has been excluded from this gastronomic revival. Why is that?

The answer, not surprisingly, seems to be complicated. Culture, technology, big business, and politics all seem to play a part in Grier’s nuanced explanation:

The Rediscovery of Tobacco takes a longer and wider view, tracing tobacco back to its origin in the Americas and the diverse ways it was put to use around the world. It turns next to how a single product—the manufactured cigarette—came to take over the market, with disastrously lethal consequences. From there it explores secondhand smoke, smoking bans, and the ways in which the anti-smoking movement began replacing rigorous science with ideological fervor. It then moves on to the changing landscape of tobacco regulation, detailing how the biggest tobacco companies shape seemingly public-spirited laws to work to their advantage. This leads into the heated question of tobacco harm reduction and why many leaders in public health are so hostile to products that massively reduce users’ exposure to toxic tobacco smoke. Finally, the book concludes with a case for a more liberal, tolerant, and open approach to nicotine and tobacco use, in opposition to the increasingly authoritarian and technocratic demands of tobacco control.

For the kind of person who reads websites like this one, which are devoted to an appreciation of the finer details of handmade cigars, this is exactly the type of exploration that we need more of. For that reason, we heartily recommend The Rediscovery of Tobacco. Buy it here.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

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