Shortlist year: 2022
Shortlist category: Non-fiction
Published by: Penguin Random House Australia: Hamish Hamilton
The folks that bring you Marlboro – Philip Morris – are wheezing, slowly dying. Cigarettes are out of favour with everyone, from world governments and investors to, increasingly, smokers. So, what's their plan?
Prepare to be dazzled. Or, at the very least, befuddled.
Philip Morris has announced they will shut down as a cigarette company, and relaunch as a health enterprise, dedicated to convincing the one billion smokers of the world to quit.
The ever-curious John Safran leaves his apartment to find out what on God's green earth is going on. As he starts digging away he discovers a company up to brand new shenanigans, wangling their way into unexpected places, desperately trying to keep their tobacco business alive by brandishing a mysterious new doohickey called an IQOS.
And not only that, now they're upending language itself, changing the meaning of words. Will they slip past bans by convincing governments they don't sell 'cigarettes' but rather 'HeatSticks', and that these don't emit 'smoke' but 'aerosol'? Can John get the real story out of them without his life catching fire?
Wild, hilarious and thought-provoking, 'Puff Piece' is a probing look into Big Tobacco and the vaping industry, and how words can be literally a matter of life and death.
About the author
John Safran is a writer and filmmaker who always gets in too deep for his own good. His debut book, 'Murder in Mississippi', won the Ned Kelly Award for best true crime. His follow up, 'Depends What You Mean by Extremist', found him lost among radicals and was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards. His wild and hilarious documentaries, such as 'John Safran vs God' and 'Jedis & Juggalos', have received accolades from the Australian Film Institute and Rose d'Or Festival. His latest book is' Puff Piece: How Philip Morris set vaping alight (and burned down the English language)'.
In 'Puff Piece', John Safran skewers the "sneaky" strategy of Fortune 500 company Philip Morris to keep smokers addicted to its cancer-causing cigarettes in a future consumer and investment environment more logically highly toxic for the prospects of Big Tobacco. In this slippery David and Goliath epic nothing is as it first seems. Under Philip Morris's 'unsmoke the world' scenario, smokers switch to its new IQOS HeatStick, a tobacco heating device it claims produces aerosol rather than smoke, Nicotine Free Dry Particulate Matter rather than tar and fewer chemical hazards than traditional cigarettes. In compelling, fluent, and always entertaining prose, Safran demonstrates that this is nothing more than amoral Big Tobacco puffery designed to evade tightening regulation of smoking. The HeatStick is indeed a smoke and tar producing cigarette, he shows, one just as addictive as Marlboros. With something like 8 million people a year dying from smoking, according to his tally, Safran is justified in demanding to know why the tobacco giant's deadly manipulation of language and science to secure its future profit share is being allowed to pass (virtually) unremarked. Is it because our attention has shifted from corporate misbehaviour to hotter issues such as Black Lives Matter, MeToo, and climate change? "Philip Morris is committing double homicide," Safran concludes. "They're killing us with cigarettes, but they're also lulling us into apathy – we're bored to death by the matter." If we "zone out" as a result, "that's not on Philip Morris, that's on us".