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The sociology of tobacco, or The tobacco of sociology

- October 30, 2009

From Aaron Swartz, a link stating that famous sociologist Peter L. Berger was a big-time consultant for the Tobacco Insitute:

Peter L. Berger is an academic social philosopher and sociologist who served as a consultant to the tobacco industry starting with the industry’s original 1979 Social Costs/Social Values Project (SC/SV). According to a 1980 International Committee on Smoking Issues/Social Acceptability Working Party (International Committee on Smoking Issues/SAWP) progress report, Berger’s primary assignment was “to demonstrate clearly that anti-smoking activists have a special agenda which serves their own purposes, but not necessarily the majority of nonsmokers.”

Berger assisted the industry by developing non-health based arguments in defense of tobacco. He specifically developed the arguments that the anti-smoking movement is a class struggle of the richer, more educated groups against the poorer and less-educated groups, that public health advocates are elitists who are driven by quasi-religious, messianic urges and seek to punish non-believers (smokers) through the application of taxes and fines.

Berger contributed a chapter to Robert Tollison’s industry-commissioned book, Smoking and Society, in which he (Berger) did disclose his affiliation with the industry. In his chapter, titled “A Sociological View of the Antismoking Phenomenon,” Berger described the anti-smoking movement as a “health cult” in which doctors were the “priests” and hospitals the “sanctuaries.” . . .

A description of his professional accomplishments (listed under the staff description section of Boston University’s web site) lists the institutions where Berger has taught, the books he has written and the awards he has received, but contains no mention Berger’s past affiliations with the tobacco industry, nor any of the work he has done on their behalf.

I’m certainly in no position to criticize someone for working for the tobacco industry. Still, it’s interesting. The only thing I’ve read by Berger is his book that begins with the line about there being no jokes about sociologists. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed from that book that he worked for the Tobacco Institute. Thank you for smoking, indeed.

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