Medical Anthropology Quarterly

Tobacco Talk: Reflections on Corporate Power and the Legal Framing of Consumption

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Abstract

This article examines how North Carolina tobacco farmers think about the moral ambiguities of tobacco business. Drawing on ethnographic research with tobacco farmers and archival research on the tobacco industry, I specify the core psychological defense mechanisms that tobacco companies have crafted for people associated with the industry. I also document local social, cultural, and economic factors in rural North Carolina that underpin ongoing rural dependence on tobacco despite the negativity that surrounds tobacco and structural adjustments. This article contributes to our knowledge about tobacco farmers and tobacco farming communities, which is important for tobacco-control strategies. I reflect on ethical and economic paradoxes related to the rise of corporate social responsibility in the tobacco industry, where an official legal framing of consumption, focused on informed adult consumer autonomy and health education, is promoted to undermine more robust public health prevention efforts.

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