Fighting Cancer and Promoting Smoking in the UK, its Colonies and Commonwealth, 1920s-1970s – CALL FOR PAPERS

Date / time: 26 April, All day

Fighting Cancer and Promoting Smoking in the UK, its Colonies and Commonwealth, 1920s-1970s - CALL FOR PAPERS


Call for Papers, deadline – 26 April 2024

Rationale and Scope:

Through the first half of the 20th Century, the British Empire exported two powerful and contradictory movements in parallel: it was firstly the primary driver of the international tobacco market. Although ostensibly a transnational collaboration, by 1920 British-American Tobacco Corporation (BAT Co.) was an imperial entity in all but name and the world’s first truly global company. Its power was built on the rapidly growing popularity of the cigarette. At the same time, the British Empire was becoming a key driver of the fight against cancer. The Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Macmillan Cancer Support, and in 1923, the founding of the British Empire Cancer Campaign promoted new medical science and cancer control techniques across to the colonies and the dominions, and the nations outside the empire.

This conflicting, simultaneous promotion of smoking and cancer control continued into the 1970s. Our volume seeks to explore the tensions and contradictions it caused in the UK, its colonies, and later, the Commonwealth, particularly by comparing how they were expressed at the height of the empire during the interwar years and later during decolonisation. A particular interest is in the interplay between decolonisation and the strengthening tobacco control movement following landmark publications in 1950 proving that smoking causes lung cancer. Thereafter, the anti-cancer and tobacco control movements were increasingly linked, and they gained power at both a grassroots level and through transnational connections. Our collection seeks to explore how these movements engaged with imperial support for global tobacco.

The collection will cover the period before 1950, when evidence of harm from tobacco was more limited and BAT Co. was at the height of its global power as the sole transnational corporation. It will also cover the period after the link between smoking and cancer was known, including cases that look at both periods, in order to explore whether and how the tension between fighting cancer and promoting smoking continued even with this knowledge.

The volume will seek to answer broad questions. How did the anti-cancer effort in the UK transfer to its colonies and Commonwealth? How did it develop alongside the simultaneous promotion and encouragement of smoking? How was smoking promoted and encouraged in the UK, its colonies and Commonwealth? Did the inherent tension and contradiction affect the fight against cancer, weaken or delay tobacco control measures, and in turn further sustain the rate of smoking? Did this tension in turn even lead to increased smoking in certain colonies after 1950?

Therefore, we are seeking contributions that explore how cancer fighting and tobacco control developed in the UK, its colonies, and the dominions/Commonwealth between roughly 1920 and 1980. In parallel, we are looking for chapters on the promotion of smoking and the tobacco business in the empire, including a focus on BAT Co. and the other “Big Tobacco” corporations that emerged after World War II. Chapters may explore any colony, dominion, or the UK, or they may also examine the empire in its entirety.

The editors emphasise that a key consideration in our selections will be balance: balance between cases relating to the UK, its colonies and Commonwealth, with as wide a global geographical reach as possible; and balance across the entire period, giving no greater focus on any one period over another.


If you believe that you can contribute a chapter, please send an abstract (up to 250 words) and biography (up to 150 words) to Professor Andrekos Varnava, Dr Thomas Kehoe and Yianni Cartledge by 26 April 2024. Following this, all those who submitted proposals will be notified of the result, and the book proposal will be sent to Oxford University Press. Contributors will have until the end of 31 October 2024 to submit a full draft of their chapter. They will receive feedback within 2 weeks and have a further 2 weeks to revise, before submitting the final version by 2 December 2024, with a view to the book being published in 2025.

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Image: Advertising (1947, May 24). The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), p. 4. Retrieved March 29, 2024, from