The Taste of Smoke

Mary Neuburger

in Communism Unwrapped

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199827657
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950461 | DOI:
The Taste of Smoke

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In this chapter Mary Neuburger provides a historical analysis of tobacco consumption in postwar Bulgaria, with a focus on the activities and successes of the state tobacco monopoly, Bulgartabak (BT). BT offers an important example of an island of extraordinary entrepreneurial success within a Bloc economy, by an enterprise that was remarkably responsive to consumer needs. By the late 1950s, BT was a major producer of cigarettes for a domestic and Bloc population with dramatically rising smoking rates. Increased smoking, of course, was a global phenomenon in the postwar period. But while this was driven by corporate marketing in the West, socialist states and official enterprises like BT actively provided the products and venues that translated into a rapid increase in smoking behind the Iron Curtain. By the later decades of the period, however, socialist regimes launched anti-smoking campaigns and restrictions even as they continued to enable a smoking society. In Bulgaria, in particular, state efforts to quell smoking were always overshadowed by the importance of BT, whose continued success in the 1970s and 1980s was in large part a result of exchanges with Western companies and selective appropriation of technologies. At the same time BT achievements were also clearly predicated on the enabling structures of the Bulgarian socialist economy, Bloc trade and, most importantly, their ability to successfully respond to Bloc smokers—through taste tests, research on flavor and blend, and elaborate changes in packaging and branding. Far from “dictating needs” BT was always attune to Bloc tastes.

Keywords: consumption; trade; tobacco industry; taste; quality; smoking; leisure; Bulgaria; modernity

Chapter.  9995 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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