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Tobacco pandemic lecture

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Dr. Allan M. Brandt, professor at Harvard University, came to Ashland University tonight to give a lecture about tobacco consumption and an evaluation of global health disparities related to smoking.

The atmosphere in Redwood Hall was commemorative, as this year is the 50th anniversary of the Science as a Cultural Force course taught here at Ashland University. Proposed by C.S. Lewis, Science as a Cultural Force is a class where a science professor and professor from another humanities course teach an interdisciplinary class.

Dr. Brandt’s book, “The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America”, is used as the textbook for instruction in the class. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for general nonfiction.

After Dr. William Vaughan, philosophy professor, gave what Dr. Brandt called a “very generous introduction”, Dr. Brandt then thanked Dr. Weidenhamer for inviting him to the course today to meet the students and experience the course.

Dr. Brandt began the lecture by describing a trip to New York City with his parents and sisters around 1960 when he was a young child. He had a children’s book about New York that featured an illustration of a Camel billboard in Times Square (constructed in 1941), “billowing smoke rings into the night sky.” That is where he wanted to go see while in New York, despite his parents’ avid objections to smoking. Dr. Brandt now believes tobacco is “a material burden of disease,” an unnecessary and avoidable cause of death in the United States

The lecture highlighted four major issues at the center of his work: explaining the rise of tobacco consumption in the United States and the West, the social production of scientific knowledge of causality and harm (how do we know what we know about smoking) , the corporate production of scientific uncertainty, confusion and ignorance, and the forces of persistence of smoking globally in the face of that knowledge.

“We know more about this as a risk to health than any other product in the history of humankind. In the face of our understanding, the tobacco industry worked intelligently, creatively, and innovatively to undermine that knowledge, as it was produced, to confuse the issue. How do you invent a product and promote it in such effective ways, but in ways that have a dramatic and tragic impact on human health?” he asked the audience.

The lecture was laced with a sense of moral duty. Tobacco use is regulated in the United States and the amount of people smoking has dramatically decreased since the 1920s, but the tobacco industry moves to other parts of the world where it is not as heavily regulated, taxed, or controlled.

According to Dr. Brandt, The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has been signed by 140 countries, but not the United States. Smoking and tobacco health advertisements in other parts of the world can be extremely graphic, and the tobacco industry here “hostily opposes” those graphic warnings because it wants to keep the industry alive.

Julia Owens, freshman biology major enrolled in the Science as a Cultural Force course, said that the lecture was eye opening.

“I think tonight’s lecture highlighted many important issues still relevant today regarding the use of tobacco and tobacco related products,” Owens said.

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