Charlie Alderwick argues that there’s no doubt about it
I shouldn’t need to try very hard to make the case that smoking is cool. You all already know. Some deep, guilty part of your mind is already persuaded that smoking is cool. Smokers and non-smokers alike are perfectly aware of the cigarette’s status as the ultimate symbol of devil-may-care attitude. Smokers are aloof, self-assured, mysterious rebels and no amount of grim photos of rotting lungs on cigarette packets will change the fact that if you smoke, you’re a cool cat. Or at the very least, one step closer to being one.
Let’s think about the various guises smoking has occupied in the past. Pre-Christopher Columbus’s, Tobacco was taken in large doses by native Americans, who valued its use as a hallucinogenic drug. And who are we – us vapid, modern consumers – to argue against the spiritual benefits of such a practice?
But if ritual visions aren’t your bag, you might be lured to the dark side by the notion of channelling smoking’s crucial role in old-school Hollywood glamour. “Greta Garbo and Monroe, Dietrich and DiMaggio”, all icons of Golden Age elegance as listen in the song Vogue by Madonna (a pioneer of ‘cool’ herself, and no stranger to the odd puff on a cigar) and all of whom, I’m sure would have held their cigarette and blown their smoke in a special, slightly arch way that screams ‘I am an opulent member of the glitterati. Who cares if my lungs are full of tar?’. Cumbersome health questions about the wisdom of smoking began to emerge half way through the 1990s, yet in spite of this, smoking has since become Absolutely Fabulous…
1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s of course provided us with the perennial image, now a cliché, of Sophisticated Smoking (at its best with cigarette holder – to avoid the yellowing of fingers, or worse, fine silk gloves), with Cruella De Ville (both cartoon and Glen Close versions) also opting for the long, thin holder – perfect for emphasising villainous, flamboyant gestures.
These figures of incredible grace and impeccable style have really only changed superficially, with today’s equivalents (Kate Moss and co.) still lighting up on a regular basis in their edgy Shoreditch haunts.
For something a little more masculine, pipe-smoking usually ups the sartorial score. Pipe smoking is rarely ‘cool’, as such, but inevitably gives one an air of being very distinguished and everso clever – after all, in taking up this noble habit, you would be following in the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh and J R R Tolkien.
Having provided you with many examples of iconic smokers in the public sphere, I’d like to return to my original point. Despite the prevalence of smoking amongst the easily-glamourised factions of society – aristos and punks, millionaire entrepreneurs and gangstas, supermodels and hookers, etc. – the reason you know full well that smoking is cool, is your own experiences growing up. From the 15-year-old rebels in your school, who would sneak a quick fag in after P.E., to the lofty and artsy types in Oxford who devote as much time to their poetry/guitar as to their studies – smoking is an element of their uniform that is here to stay. If you fear for the health of your circulation, or if carcinogenic substances make you feel a little nervous, then you just don’t value your image enough; live fast, die young.
Sarah Ventress begs to differ…
It’s getting cold, the frosty mantle of winter is drawing in and you’re standing on a square foot of pavement with twenty other people, blue hands shivering as you take a drag. Take a look at yourself. I’m not even going to bother talking about the health risks that come with smoking – because they speak for themselves. No, the fact that smoking isn’t cool is all about image.
If you frequently find yourself doing ludicrous things with condoms and fire alarms, hanging out of windows, freezing your arse off outside pubs, asking Big Issue sellers for a light and generally going to extraordinary lengths to light up, the chances are you’re losing a bit of credibility.
The days of elegant smoking have been and gone, along with a lot of the ‘smoking is cool’ brigade. The Marlboro man died of lung cancer. Fewer and fewer celebrities are lighting up. If your only company outside in the rain is going to be a washed up Kate Moss, maybe you’d be better off inside. There’s also your long term image to consider. Yes, OK, smoking might not look too bad at twenty-one, but imagine yourself in a few years time and it’s a bit more Dot Cotton than Dietrich.
And then there are smoking areas, the playground of the socially inept. Making friends as you shiver uncontrollably, with your trusty cigarette as a social crutch, leads to some worrying choices of companions. You may be, like, totally bonding with someone who was in Cambodia at exactly the same time as you, but at the end of the day you’re still in a metal cage on Park End Street being herded by a fat man wearing much warmer clothes than you.
When you combine all these factors with the prospects of lung cancer, impotence and all the other health warnings they plaster on the front of packets, it becomes clear that smoking just isn’t cool. Inevitably it all comes down to the fact that if you’re not cool to start with, adding bad breath and yellow fingers into the equation probably isn’t going to help. Just a thought.