Views & Reviews Review of the week

Killing you softly

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 05 July 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:46

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Stan Shatenstein, contributing editor, Tobacco Control, and editor, GLOBALink News & Information, Montreal
  1. shatensteins{at}

    A history of the last 100 years of cigarette use fails to consvey the scale of plague we have unleashed on ourselves, finds Stan Shatenstein

    The images are iconic. The Hindenberg zeppelin ablaze at its New Jersey moorings. A Spanish loyalist shot dead under the unforgiving lens of Robert Capra. A naked, napalmed Vietnamese girl running towards the camera. Jack Ruby jumping into the path of John Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. United Flight 175, its gleaming wings slashing into World Trade Center tower 2 as tower 1 stands nearby, mortally weakened. Human forms dropping from the towers' heights like dark, crippled birds before our disbelieving eyes.

    But we do believe. We understand, if but dimly. From still photos, motion pictures, and video captures, death compels us, frightens us, convinces us. We wish to look away, but that desire is submerged by succeeding waves of fascination—morbid, human, ever present.

    So when an author tries to explain the avoidable loss of 100 million lives over only a century, what are we to make of this plague we have brought on ourselves? When he insists that the figure will rise 10-fold in the current century, what sense do we make of the devastation? Do we see bulldozers ploughing limp bodies into the soil of liberated concentration camps? …

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