Mounting attacks on the tobacco industry have become such rich fodder for authors that a new novelist has written about a diabolical scheme to ruin cigarette makers.
"Gasp!," being released by Barricade Books this week, examines the eerie world of an embittered wire service editor who learns he is dying of lung cancer the same week he is fired from his job. Deciding that if he is going to die he will take take the tobacco business down with him, he launches a deadly plan to poison hundreds of packages of cigarettes and plant them in convenience stores, restaurants, offices, factories and bars across America."In researching the book, I did everything my character did except, of course, actually poison people," said Frank Freudberg, the Wayne, Pa., author of the book. "I even dialed an 800 number and ordered cyanide crystals and had them sent to a mail box service . . . a week later I had enough cyanide to murder 2,500 people."
Freudberg said he learned how to open cigarette packs and reseal them. He then traveled throughout the country with packs he had marked with a red "X" instead of actually spiking them with sodium cyanide. He said he carried out his scheme in 13 states, slipping the packages into racks at newsstands and convenience stores, leaving them at restaurants and bars and even getting them into vending machines.
"In every case, an unsuspecting consumer either bought or picked up the pack with the red X," Freudberg said.
"Gasp!" is the latest in a spate of books this year involving the tobacco industry. It arrives in bookstores as John Grisham's "The Runaway Jury" remains on the New York Times bestsellers list after more than 13 weeks. The Grisham book, published by Double-day, concerns jury tampering in a lawsuit brought against the tobacco industry.
In June, a mystery by David Champion, "Nobody Roots for Goliath," was released by Allen A. Knoll Publishers as part of a series about mega-lawyer Bomber Hanson. In this novel, he takes on the tobacco industry by representing a blind Pennsylvania Dutch father of 12 who is dying of lung cancer.
Three major nonfiction works have also been published this year on internal tobacco documents, whistleblowers and litigation: "Ashes to Ashes: America's Hundred Year Cigarette War, The Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris," by Richard Kluger (Alfred A. Knopf); "The Cigarette Papers," by Stanton A. Glantz, John Slade, Lisa A. Bero, Peter Hanauer and Deborah E. Barnes (University of California Press) and "Smokescreen: the Truth Behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-Up," by Philip J. Hilts (Addison-Wesley)
In the children's area, Sights Productions, a small Mount Airy, Md., publisher, released a paperback version of "Cigarettes, Cigarettes, The Dirty Rotten Truth About Tobacco." The book, written and illustrated by Pete Trayner, is about Hardley Puffin, a reformed cigarette smoker and former spokesman for Puffin Cigarettes. After being hit by a train, he becomes a crusader against smoking by children.
"Cigarettes, cigarettes, it feels so big to smoke, you hardly even notice how much you wheeze and choke," Puffin cautions.
The foreword to the book was written by Patrick Reynolds, whose grandfather founded the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Reynolds, an ardent campaigner against smoking, is president of the Foundation for a Smokefree America.