The appeal of smoking to Millennials in the 21st century



Kyra Kruger

In a rational world, if a person knows something is bad for her, she won’t do it.  Alas, in this wholly irrational world we live in, doing things that are bad for us seems to be half the fun of living. When we are young, more than half of what is considered “cool” like drinking, weed and dancing to loud music around louder people, most would consider not in our best interests.  

On this subject, there is one ill-advised activity, that despite taking many a hit to its national image and universal “cool” factor, has hung around against all odds like Trump in the GOP: smoking cigarettes.  

Admittedly, there are many reasons people smoke, and there are many types of people who smoke, but what has interested me is the appeal of a cigarette to young people despite the highly publicized and deeply unappealing effects of addiction. 

Despite an almost worldwide campaign against smoking, from plain packaging laws to the Truth ads I’m sure everyone has seen on TV, cigarettes have remained undeniably sexy.  

As an eighth grader, I still remember sitting through a movie on smoking, seeing a diseased lung and thinking that’s the most disgusting thing to ever pass through my gaze. I consistently cringe anytime I watch that girl peel off a chunk of her skin in exchange for a pack, or that man cover the hole at the base of his neck while he showers.  

Statistics show that this exposure to the ugly sides of smoking has reduced smoking rates considerably, but to me it seems as though the new stigma around smoking packs a harder punch to the status of “a smoker” than it does to the actual act of smoking.  

Similar to the distinction between an alcoholic, and someone who drinks socially, I shake my head at those sorry souls standing outside the library in the freezing cold, shaking lips meeting shaking cigarette between shaking fingertips, but give little thought to the girl who lights up beside me during a night out.  

And yet, cigarettes don’t have quite as powerful of an effect as alcohol, and the risk of addiction is much higher, so what is it about those little sticks of tobacco that keeps people from giving them up completely? 

I will admit that I am also not immune to the appeal of cigarettes. In a lot of ways for me, it is simply the aesthetic of smoking that has me reaching for one. Watching smoke curl past my lips into a dark blue sky and feeling the slight burn in my chest is an almost transcendental experience.  It makes me feel alive and rebellious and beautiful and as free as the remnants of my breath that dissipate in the night air. 

However, these associations I make with smoking are not entirely my own.  Propaganda and the branding of cigarettes goes back generations and generations, which must be why despite now knowing the negative effects, it still retains its age-old connotations.  

Smoking evokes a kind of nostalgia for the past and the desire to be a sort of classic rebel.  The show “Mad Men” is a perfect example of this.  The show lets its viewers live vicariously through the characters’ loose morals and ignorance.  Don Draper seems to make everything he touches glamorous, including sex, alcohol, and most of all, cigarettes.  

There is something about smoking that makes you channel every cool person from the past, whether it’s James Dean or a young Johnny Depp in tight t-shirts, cigarettes dangling carelessly from their mouths, Audrey Hepburn all dolled up in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, where a long cigarette holder makes the perfect accessory, or Marilyn Monroe leaning on edge of a balcony, overlooking New York City like it’s her kingdom. 

Whether it’s The Beatles, or The Rolling Stones, or Nirvana, or The 1975, or any rock band that has ever been, there is still something about smoking that makes us feel like we could party with the best of them, that says I am a rebel, I am young, I laugh in the face of danger, darling I simply don’t give a damn.  

But at the end of the day, there is still nothing sexy about tobacco caked under fingernails, about the stale scent that you can never quite brush away, about a woman with pockmarked skin and rotten teeth and a lung infested with cancer.