Interesting article on the BBC News website today.
James Buchanan Duke: Father of the modern cigarette is a profile of the businessman who revolutionised the tobacco industry by mechanising the production of cigarettes.
The article relies, to a large extent, on the words of Dr Robert Proctor of Stanford University, and Jordan Goodman, author of Tobacco in History.
"The cigarette is the deadliest artefact in the history of human civilisation," says Dr Robert Proctor of Stanford University. "It killed about 100 million people in the 20th Century."
The article continues:
In a recent essay for the journal Tobacco Control, Robert Proctor argues that many people in the tobacco industry all share some responsibility.
"We have to realise that adverts can be carcinogens, along with convenience stores and pharmacies that sell cigarettes. The executives who work for cigarette companies cause cancer, as do the artists who design cigarette packs and the PR and advertising firms that manage such accounts," he says.
(You might want to read that again. "Adverts can be carcinogens, along with convenience stores and pharmacies that sell cigarettes ... The executives who work for cigarette companies cause cancer, as do the artists who design cigarette packs ...")
But I digress. According to Goodman, Duke "was both a hero and a villain. He was a hero "in terms of his understanding of the market, his understanding of human psychology, his understanding of pricing, his understanding of advertising".
Against that, "He made the world smoke cigarettes, and it's the cigarette which has been the problem of the 20th Century."
The problem of the 20th Century? Try telling that to victims of Hitler and other genocidal maniacs from Stalin to Pol Pot.
To avoid any doubt about Duke's place in history, there is an additional section entitled 'Merchants of death' that lists three people: Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, J Robert Oppenheimer, "for his role in the Manhattan Project, the World War II programme that developed the first nuclear weapons", and Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel who "patented dynamite and gelignite".
It's this, we are told, that "may have led him to bequeath $2.69m" ($301m or £190m in today's money) "when he died in 1896 to establish the Nobel Prizes".
To summarise, the architect of the mass-production and globalisation of cigarettes is compared to the designer of the "world's most popular assault weapon", the "father of the atomic bomb" and a man who, according to a French newspaper, "became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before".