Commerce, Addictive Products, and Harm: Lessons from The Cigarette Century

Porn is a product that addicts many, often with consequences that can be dire (loss of family, loss of job), affect innocent parties (abuse, molestation, secondary effects), and take a long time to manifest. During this time, the addict generates handsome profits for the companies that perpetuate his addiction.

The industry, not surprisingly, aggressively protests the notion that its products cause harm, or argues that any harm is solely the responsibility of the consumer. It objects to the slightest regulations, such as adult-use zoning, as impermissible restrictions on an individual’s choices.

The parallels to the tobacco industry are obvious, and after several decades, with scientific evidence mounting, the public became convinced that some regulations, warnings, and redress were necessary to balance the risks and harms of smoking. You can still smoke, but you can’t just do it anywhere you want, and it’s harder to be ignorant of what might happen to you. Allan Brandt explores the tobacco story in detail in The Cigarette Century. His website provides this excerpt:

There are powerful cultural values that account for the resilience of the cigarette. Tobacco use continues to be widely viewed as the responsibility of the individual smoker. Even as the tobacco-control movement has worked to contest this view–by emphasizing the addictiveness of nicotine and the aggressive pitch to children–common cultural logic continues to assert that smoking is a matter of individual control. This view takes tobacco regulation off any list of political priorities. At the same time, efforts to bring Big Tobacco under regulatory mandates are viewed with considerable skepticism in a polity hostile to big government, big taxes, and Big Brother. Cigarette use, in this view, is an area where government pursuit of social goals must yield to the individual’s right to disregard health and well-being. The stigmatization of the smoker, which occurred in the last decades of the twentieth century had the effect of further eroding the political will to regulate tobacco. Because they are attributed to individuals, large and concrete risks, like smoking, are perceived far more benignly than are smaller but more dramatic risks. Because the effects of tobacco are slow–and iterative–and produce diseases that have other causes and explanations, often later in life, they seldom arouse fear commensurate with their impact. If, for example, we were to identify an infectious organism that caused lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema in a substantial number of people who were exposed, one can only imagine the level of concern and political action that would result. But we have an industry that produces such an “agent” with a warning label printed on the side of every package. As a culture, we seek to insist—despite much powerful evidence to the contrary–that smoking remains a simple question of individual agency, personal fortitude, and the exercise of free will. Certainly, if it involves imposing risks on others, its public use should be legally curtailed. As a result, there has been much support for restrictions, increasingly universal, prohibiting smoking in public places. But at the same time, there has been an ongoing insistence that smoking remains an aspect of personal agency, beyond the ken of regulatory interest. This view is widely held because it protects our larger sense of individual control and agency. Smokers, who are easy to stigmatize and condemn, assure our sense of a world in which individuals do make decisions, exercise agency, and control their destinies. Keeping smoking essentially unregulated assists us in a larger cultural denial of forces over which we may have little control. In this sense, we need the cigarette and the smoker to make sense of our world. And the tobacco industry is willing and eager to assist in the assertion of the logic of individual responsibility. Take, for example, the recent major advertising campaign sponsored by Philip Morris known as “Quit Assist.” These widely viewed television spots and pamphlets–often perceived as counterintuitive–contend that Philip Morris, the nation’s biggest producer of cigarettes, is eager to support efforts to restrict youth smoking and aid those who wish to quit. Not only do such public relations efforts attempt to demonstrate that the company now is a “responsible corporate citizen,” the campaign also seeks to underscore the claim that smoking is simply a matter of adult “choice.” These ads have been shown to have little or no effect on quitting, but they are quite effective in shoring up the industry’s principal defense of cigarette smoking as an individual responsibility. If Philip Morris is offering to help you quit–and you don’t–who should be held accountable?

Resisting the blandishments of the companies and the addictiveness of nicotine is one cultural test of our discipline, independence, and individualism. This cultural idiom–central to the way we think about vulnerability, health, and disease–continues to shape the history of the cigarette in our time. But as the last century has shown, this orientation to the cigarette is a product of time and culture, subject to change. That said, it is powerful and resilient, and vast corporate interests seek to reify these values.

Our insistence on personal responsibility may be a double-edged sword. It may encourage a heightened sense of individual control over health but also alienate and distance those who become ill. I cite a common scenario: “I have a friend in the hospital with lung cancer.” First question: “Did he smoke?” “Two packs a day–tried to quit and failed.” A shrug of the shoulders: “What did he expect?” This quick and commonplace response reveals the nearly instantaneous mechanism by which we identify the smoker as the one responsible for his sorry fate. By doing so, we dissociate ourselves from the complex forces–economic, corporate, cultural, and biological–that have brought such smokers to their plight. Shall we consider smokers ignorant and stupid for maintaining an “unnecessary behavior” that has clearly been defined as highly dangerous, or shall we recognize the power of advertising and cultural conventions, as well as the biological and psychological qualities of addiction that constrain individual choice?

Calls for public responsibility need not erode our expectations of individual responsibility. It would be far easier and more appropriate to consider smoking truly an individual choice if, for example, cigarettes were subject to a serious and effective regulation. Setting individual versus social responsibility creates a false dichotomy that has served the tobacco industry’s interests.

This is not to suggest that smokers are absolved of accountability. To the contrary, most investigators of addictive behaviors confirm that individual motivation and acceptance of responsibility are critical to cessation and recovery. But we should not allow the industry to use calls for individual responsibility to secure a free ride at the expense of smokers and society. Indeed, the very notion that responsibility can be allocated either to smokers or the industry misrepresents a deep historical reality about the interconnectedness of culture, behavior, and commerce in the last century.

See also:

Time to Explore the Links Between Porn, Testosterone, Sexual Behavior and Violence
Pornographers achieve this combination of a high number of mindbody links and maximum drug/hormone release by mixing sexual images with male dominance, aggression and violent images intended to shock and stimulate simultaneously. Porn scenes ranging from simple “male in control” to aggression, rape, torture and murder, abound in Internet porn geared to the male viewer.

These kinds of images link sexual arousal in the male mindbody with emotions of shock, anger, confusion, violence and domination which cause the male mindbody to release enormous amounts of additional testosterone, which further increase male narrowing, loss of reason, feelings of aggression, and sexual drive and arousal…

The male viewer is not only addicted to simple sexual arousal, but this arousal is linked to mindbody processes that would never be normally linked to the sexual process.

A Review of The Skinner Box Effect: Sexual Addiction and Online Pornography
Grundner’s theory is that online porn is especially addictive because viewers can keep clicking through a virtually infinite number of images until they find that elusive thrill. He cites the classic experiments that the behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner did with pigeons, hence the title. The pigeon in the box would peck a disk in order to receive a food pellet. Skinner found that if the reward were supplied at random, unpredictable intervals–sometimes after three pecks, sometimes ten, sometimes a hundred–the pigeons would behave like crazed gamblers on a Vegas slot machine. They might peck 500 to 1,000 times before giving up. Some would starve to death before they stopped trying, even if no pellet had been forthcoming for days. Similarly, says Grundner, because the porn consumer never knows whether the next image might be the one to excite his jaded palate, he quickly falls into compulsive, excessive behavior.

Robert Jensen: Influence of Pornography on Sex Offenders (explicit language)
“The pornography actually helped me work into my abuse, I feel. It accelerated that appetite for more. That’s what I feel about it. Because, if I wouldn’t have been introduced to a lot of this, and got my appetite whetted, then I don’t think I’d thought of half the deviant things I’ve done…”

Victor Cline: “Pornography’s Effects on Adults and Children”
As a clinical psychologist, I have treated, over the years, approximately 350 sex addicts, sex offenders, or other individuals (96% male) with sexual illnesses. This includes many types of unwanted compulsive sexual acting-out, plus such things as child molestation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sadomasochism, fetishism, and rape. With several exceptions, pornography has been a major or minor contributor or facilitator in the acquisition of their deviation or sexual addiction.

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