Cigarettes contain around 7000 chemicals including Arsenic, found in rat poison, a number of pesticides, and Toluene, which is a highly toxic chemical used in explosives. Within the thin white paper you’ll even find the radioactive element used in nuclear weaponry - Polonium-210. More disturbingly, perhaps, is the fact that when you smoke tobacco, Tar, a dark brown viscous substance used to pave roads, collects in your lungs. All sounds very sexy, right? Of course not. However, picture Audrey Hepburn smoking at the wheel of a convertible wearing oversized sunnies and a headscarf; picture Alex Turner with his greased-black locks and leather jacket smoking at a stage door; picture two lovers sat at a window sharing a post-sex cigarette in their underwear. Suddenly... there’s sex appeal!
There are still 9.1 million smokers in the U.K. today. It would be absurd to say that they are all smoking in order to appear sexually attractive, as Nicotine is an extremely addictive substance that releases dopamine in the brain, relaxing the user. Nevertheless, Hollywood movies, the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle and, more recently, the likes of Tumblr and Instagram have drawn parallels between smoking and an oh-so-cool aesthetic which could be influencing some people to smoke.
In an age where we are constantly exposed to images of beautiful social media influencers drinking coffee and smoking Marlboro Golds on the streets of Paris or Copenhagen, it is no wonder that smoking is becoming increasingly popular amongst young people despite growing up in an anti-tobacco society. They’re smoking because they want to look artsy and bougie, but nobody is warning them that coffee and cigarettes both have laxative effects. Spending an unreasonable amount of time of the toilet definitely isn’t the Instagram-worthy lifestyle they’re after. In combination with fishnet tights, doc martens, chokers, and checkered shirts, smoking is also depicted as badass in the images that frequently come up on our phone screens. Okay,so maybe not so much anymore, but as an angsty sixteen year old that shit seemed cool as hell.
These glamourised images are not new. Cigarette smoking has been framed as attractive for decades. For example, in the iconic ending of Grease, Sandy finally seduces Danny by leaning into the badass biker look and lighting a cigarette. Women who smoke are thought to be sexually adventurous and alluringly reckless; the cigarette itself becomes an on-screen sexual metaphor. Smoking has always been closely intertwined with sex. There’s even a band called Cigarettes After Sex. That’s because having sex and smoking have the same outcome - they’re both pleasurable. When we see someone smoking we see them indulging themselves, which is sexy. In fact, smoking cigarettes has been so fetishised that it’s even a category of porn.
Overall, whilst a cancer stick between the lips (which leads to brown teeth and a quicker death) should be repulsive, the media has - yet again - influenced the way we think. Smoking is sexy, and ultimately it’s your choice whether or not to partake, but it’s important to keep in mind that aesthetics, art, and the media are always influencing us in strong but subtle ways.
*Illustration by Juliet Richards*