Episode 122: Pushing Cool with Keith Wailoo

This episode of Across The Margin: The Podcast presents an interview with Keith Wailoo, Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University. His books include Dying in the City of the Blues, How Cancer Crossed the Color Line, and Pain: A Political History. Along with Dr. Anthony Fauci and others, Wailoo won the prestigious 2021 Dan David Prize which supports outstanding contributions to the study of history and other disciplines that shed light on the human past. Wailoo is also the author of Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette which is the focus of this episode. In Pushing Cool, he tells the intricate and poignant story of menthol cigarettes for the first time. Wailoo pulls back the curtain to reveal the hidden persuaders who shaped menthol buying habits and racial markets across America: the world of tobacco marketers, consultants, psychologists, and social scientists, as well as Black lawmakers and civic groups including the NAACP. Today most Black smokers buy menthol cigarettes, and calls to prohibit their circulation hinge on a history of the industry’s targeted racial marketing. In 2009, when Congress banned flavored cigarettes as criminal enticements to encourage youth smoking, menthol cigarettes were also slated to be banned. Through a detailed study of internal tobacco industry documents, Wailoo exposes why they weren’t and how they remain so popular with Black smokers today. Spanning a century, Pushing Cool reveals how the twin deceptions of health and Black affinity for menthol were crafted — and how the industry’s disturbingly powerful narrative has endured to this day. In this episode host Michael Shields and Keith Wailoo discuss exactly why menthol cigarettes were “pushed” so vigorously upon Black urban communities and assess how increased governmental restriction on cigarette advertisements actually heightened this push. They explore the lies about the health benefits of menthols used to market the cigarettes, point out a plethora of surprising public figures who have consistently pushed back against a ban on menthols, examine the link in the fight to ban menthol cigarettes to e-cigarettes, and much, much more.



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