John Safran is no stranger to stirring the pot. In his third book, Puff Piece, he asks and answers some of the burning questions aimed at Big Tobacco. The result is an enjoyable read that’s full of his trademark humour and is a clever examination on some ethical grey matters.
Many readers will perhaps be more familiar with Safran from his TV shows Race Relations and John Safran vs God. He is renowned for his lateral thinking, so no surprises his inner cynic called “bullshit” when Philip Morris announced they were rebranding as a health enterprise. Although it is not yet legal in Australia, Safran was enthralled by their heated tobacco product, the IQOS. It’s one that seems to straddle the worlds of cigarettes and vaping while also existing in a class of its own depending on where you live.
Readers acquainted with Safran will be familiar with his angsty and narcissistic brand of storytelling where he places himself front and centre in the action. It’s no different in Puff Piece, where he goes on several wild goose chases learning about tobacco, and the science and marketing behind it. Fans will also enjoy his many tangents including interviews with Father Bob Maguire and Safran’s friend, Jeremy Weinstein.
In Safran’s previous literary works he dabbled in true crime in Murder in Mississippi and engaged in some Louis Theroux-esque neo-Nazi territory in Depends What You Mean By Extremist. In his latest offering he hits his journalistic stride, tackling complex subject matters and injecting them with enough humour and quirkiness to make them palatable. Readers will certainly be left thinking twice about spin and marketing. Heck, they may even call for Safran to join TV show, Gruen.
Safran’s talent is that he is prepared to delve into immense detail and is self-aware enough to rethink things, and present cogent arguments. It means that there are various tangents and rambles here but it is presented in such a novel way. Readers will feel treated while holding court with such a clever jester.
Puff Piece is ultimately a funny look at cigarettes. It will have you questioning just when a smoking gun is from a cigarette and likewise. Excellent.