When I started smoking as an edgy, rebellious 17-year-old it was mainly to do with sticking two fingers up to my parents. I made a friend from the wrong side of the tracks (read: the opposite side of Birmingham) and together we would smoke the cigarettes she stole from her dad in an alleyway by our school gates. Every time a car drove past we would panic and run for the hills.
I'm smoking in my slippers and I still look good. BECAUSE CIGARETTES ARE COOL.
My boyfriend of the time should also be held accountable. He was very much cast as the ‘bad boy’ in our circle of friends, and as such, was an avid smoker (he also dyed his hair blonde, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers and this was Birmingham not the OC). We smoked together. It was magical.
Now the appeal is a little bit more complicated. While I know I smoke when I’m sad, anxious or just drunk, I think it’s largely because I still hold this misguided belief that it makes me look cool. In my mind, I’m Margot Tenenbaum smoking in a brown fur coat. I’m Lux Lisbon in the Virgin Suicides, lying on the roof, sharing a cigarette with Josh Harnett. Hell, I’m every sexy French woman alive chugging away on a fag in her lunch break.
Sometimes when I’m moodily chain-smoking away outside my office, I imagine how mysterious and romantic I must look to passers-by. ‘Look at that lost soul, so dangerous, I wonder what her story is,’ they must think. Well, that’s what I think when I see the French intern smoking, anyway (French intern if you’re reading this, I love you).
Now, I know a lot of you will be shaking your heads (or fists) at the screen as you read this, chastising my ignorance and for encouraging young people to smoke with my nonsensical ideas, but hear me out. It’s not my fault. Cigarettes have always been marketed as cool. Ignore the ‘I’ll never be able to un-see that’ images of tumours that haunt cigarette boxes now (I have a friend who always asks for a certain warning picture on hers, one of the less scary ones) and take a look at the past gazillion years of cigarette advertising. A quick Google image search brings up an entire cast of soldiers, vixens, businessmen and mothers all waxing lyrical about the beneficial qualities of cigarettes. My personal favourite is ‘Smoking is Believing.’
Look at that lost soul, so dangerous, I wonder what her story is...
In the first episode of Mad Men (where I learn all my history) Don Draper manages to differentiate his client, Lucky Strikes, from other cigarette brands by pitching them as ‘toasted’ while others are ‘poisoned’. He can’t ignore the fact that by then people knew cigarettes would kill you. So instead he makes them edgy, he makes them cool. They’re the cigarettes that don’t care if they’re deathly, because they’re toasted. The characters then proceed to spend every episode in a cloud of choking, toxic smoke. And they look bloody cool doing it.
Cinema also has a lot to do with why I see smoking as cool. You’ve got your James Deans and your Audrey Hepburns making smoking look rebellious and sexy respectively, and Leonardo DiCaprio pretty much chain smoking his way through every film he’s ever been in now. I never stood a chance.
Add to this the fact that its linked to the mouth and therefore seen as sexual (YES I WENT THERE) and you’ve got to submit to the fact that you’re going to have a 20-a-day habit until your lungs implode 50 years later. It’s just the way it’s gonna be.
That said, whenever I see a granny in a greasy café with an overflowing ashtray, I realise it’s not for me. I’m just not willing to become her. I’m not that cool.