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What d'ya Smoke?

For thy sake, tobacco,
I would do anything but die.

So Charles Lamb made his sad peace with the weed in the dark Nineteenth Century before American ingenuity outdid itself to bring hope to the scared smoker.

Assaulted with report after unnerving laboratory report on the link between cigarettes and cancer, the nation's tobacco lords and their Madison Avenue idea men are verging on the schizophrenic. They dare not protest too much; yet, will not silence seem to mean consent to the terrible charges of medical science.

Even the old familiars have been shaken. Philip Morris has retreated from gloomy reality to find solace in its new Snap-open pack. As un-cancerous a group of athletes as you'd ever hope to see collected on one page announce that they are Camels adherents to a man. Today's Chesterfield, "the best cigarette ever made," gives you all the benefits of 30 years of scientific tobacco research, says the ad, which also pictures spotless, gleaming North Carolina labs where brilliant young scientists have been extracting impurity after filthy impurity for a generation and a half.

While this don't-rock-the-boat approach is calmly pursued by the old familiars, a more desperate line is strung by the newcomers. The same P. Lorillard Company, which abjures "wild medical pitches" in its Old Gold ads ("a treat, not a treatment") makes Kents, and Kent alone has the "Micronite" filter, which is more effective than any other filter, old or new. The micronite is made of material "so safe, so pure, it's Used to filter the air in leading hospitals."

If this achievement doesn't bowl you over, you might try an L & M, the new monogrammed gift to smokers from the Chesterfield family. L & M has "the Miracle Tip," also the best filter on the market because it contains—get this—Alpha Cellulose, "just what the doctor ordered."

Then, of course, we have an abundance of minor league smokes. "Fine tobacco is its own best filter!" declares Pall Mall, a cigarette that "travels the smoke further, makes it cooler and sweeter for you." Viceroys' "plus king-size length" means that the smoke is purified even more by the extra tobacco.

And speaking of Viceroy, it has a new HEALTH-GUARD filter, made of ESTRON. This 100 percent filter (an entrancing statistic) is Pure! It's Snow White, with 20,000 tiny filter traps. However…the world's most efficient filter is du Maurier's. "No other filter tip of any composition or material takes out so much nicotine and tars and at the same time lets you draw the smoke so easily, so comfortably." Despite this definitive statement Parliament sticks stubbornly to its exclusive filter mouthpiece.

Raleigh has no filter…but it gives away coupons. Herbert Tareyton, meanwhile, concentrates on "the genuine cork tip to protect the lips." The latter's smoke is "naturally filtered" to boot—a claim which, may a layman suggest, naturally could be made with equal justice for any product containing tobacco.

O-Nic-O describes itself as "the original denicotinized cigarette" and Sano asks smokers WHY GO HALF WAY? Sano is king-sized with a filter and a cork tip; furthermore, the nicotine and tars have been ruthlessly disposed of.

Wally Frank offers a nine-tenths "new way of life for smokers'"—a pipe. Frank has his own filter, vouched for by no less eminent an institution than the famed Tcchnologisches Gewerbe Museum of Vienna. "After extensive stalagometric tests, they found the new Meerschaum filter to have the highest absorbency for filtering out harmful impurities, nicotine and tars." Now there's a testimonial for you!

From all this it's clear that the modern smoker has some hard decisions to make. Shall he stay faithful to the same pack a day that saw him through his courtship? Shall he, at the risk of his children's admiration and his own self-respect, switch to one of those sissy brands, guaranteed to keep the tobacco shreds out of your mouth, if nothing else? Shall he invest in a box of cigars and risk losing his whole personality, as well as his friends? Shall he go about pockets bulging with paraphernalia from Wally Frank? Shall he return to the hooka?

Or will he follow ingenuity to its utmost limit, this being the Maxwell Smokeless Cigarette Relaxer, a late addition to the sundries counters of your neighborhood five and ten? Here we have, at long last, a synthetic cigarette with a synthetic ash glowing from one end, fitted into a washable holder. The smoker inhales the clean, outdoor taste of menthol, and, plans are under way to produce Relaxers in three other delicious flavors—clove, peppermint, and (!) tobacco. This pacifier for adults is guaranteed to contain no nicotines, no tars, no resins, no pleasure; it is unlikely to irritate anybody's throat. And as of this writing no one has accused it of causing cancer.

Walter Goodman was a former contributor to The New Republic. He also served as a reporter, editor, and television critic for The New York Times.