Is Smoking Still "Cool?"
There is little doubt that one of the attractions drawing young people into smoking is that it is/was perceived as being something that is “cool.” Conveying a sense of being an activity that is associated with being more adult, being something that people in the know do, being something that the in-crowd does, being something that is viewed as demonstrating a rebellious attitude, smoking may be thought of as “cool.” If everyone did it, than it would no longer be exclusive and no longer be viewed as being so cool. There was a time when the act of smoking satisfied many of those criteria. In the early 1960’s smoking was clearly viewed as being cool (at least to some of us), something the “in-crowd” did, something that showed the smoker was more adult, more independent, more of a rebel. Smoking was showcased by the media, by the movies, by television, by its use by celebrities as being the province of many people that young people especially, sought to emulate. Many of the heroes of the movies and other entertainment venues smoked in the past much more than today.
Is smoking still seen as cool today? Perhaps among some socioeconomic strata it does retain some elements of “coolness," but for much of society today, even among young people, smoking is not seen as such a cool thing to do any longer.
Clearly the turning point of the tide to counter smoking as being a cool activity, was the Surgeon General’s Report of 1964. Although smoking was not seen as a healthy activity in the fifties or early sixties, until the Surgeon Generals Report, there was no official verification of its potentially debilitating and deadly consequences. Many smokers knew it was not really good for them, but, few anticipated the avalanche of dire health warnings associated with smoking that came out after that 1964 report. This report was the stimulus that provided the initial impetus to start changing the perception of smoking from being cool, to actually being seen as a stupid, worthless and an uncool activity. What else aided this transformation and helped the US incidence of smoking to fall from about 45% thirty years ago to around 21% today? It was not just the physical warning of highly negative effects on physical health.
Another equally important factor was the increasing awareness and perception of smoking as being a crutch for the weak to rely on and use as a tool to avoid dealing with the social/emotional demons that smokers may try to deal with via their smoking habit. That is, in today’s society, smoking is no longer seen as something that smart, enlightened, mature, emotionally-healthy people engage in. There is a growing recognition that smoking has no redeeming benefits, it is all pain, no gain. If you ask any group of people today for a rational reason to start or continue to smoke, very few will offer a rationale for the use of cigarettes or other smoking materials. It is known now, what was much less understood 25 to 50 years ago, that the old perception of smoking as a tool to help combat stress and relax the body, a benefit cited by many in the past, is scientifically and medically untrue. Smoking contains, among other things, nicotine, which is a highly recognized stimulant. When a person smokes, while it may offer some initial psychological aid to promote relaxation and “de-stressfication,” it actually does the opposite. Smoking very quickly raises our pulse, raises our blood pressure, and physically stresses the body. Most people understand this today. One of the few logical rationales for smoking was de-bunked and most no longer see it as a valid reason to smoke.
Further, more potential smokers are learning today of some highly undesirable side effects of smoking that were not recognized consequences until fairly recently. Prominent among these is that smoking significantly increases the likelihood of impotence, an important concern to almost all men (or women in sexual relationships). Also, it is now known that smoking is detrimental to the ability to conceive a child, which is also a major concern for those interested in having children.
Another undeniable trend making smoking less cool is simply that accessibility to smoking is greatly eroded by federal and state law and regulations banning smoking from the workplace, most restaurants and even some public venues. Smokers today are, if they are allowed to smoke anywhere on a corporate or other campus, are relegated to huddling outdoors in inclement and unpleasant weather, furtively smoking a cigarette like a common drug addict or criminal. All of this has greatly aided the transformation of smoking from being a cool activity to one that is getting more uncool all the time.
There is more to the transformation of smoking from being viewed by some as being a cool activity to being seen by most as uncool today. There is a growing, but still under-appreciated and under-promoted perception for smoking as having highly negative consequences on the smoker’s attractiveness to the opposite sex. Many more people see it as being uncool today, rather than cool. This is especially true by non-smokers, as a deterrent to their viewing a person as a potential long-run mate or even a short-run “hook-up.” Smoking for many in today’s society is a real turn-off that is likely to diminish the smoker's appeal toe opposite sex to whom he/she wants very much to be appealing, attractive and desirable.
There are two completely fundamental behavioral imperatives that drive the thoughts and behavior of all humans. They are the instincts, baked into our DNA, for self-preservation and to replicate our DNA, that is, ourselves in a sense, via our offspring. Activities that are contrary to these behavioral imperatives usually are avoided when they are recognized as being inconsistent with these goals. Smoking is pretty clearly far more associated with being inconsistent with and counter to imperative number two, replicating our DNA, which starts with courting and dating and typically, ends in marriage and mating. The consequences of smoking on a smoker’s physical, psychological and emotional health is totally negative and works against the smoker's attractiveness to those he/she wishes to attract as friends and as potential mates, or even, just a potential sexual conquest.
The emerging tidal wave of perception is moving smoking from being seen as cool, to uncool is aided by its own momentum. As the incidence of smoking declines in the general adult population, in the media, in entertainment outlets and among celebrities, smoking is seen as less a normal and natural part of adult life. This is especially true among those adults who have an inordinate and paramount importance as role models for our youth. The less smoking is seen, the less normal and everyday it is seen as being, and hence, the less it will be/can be seen as being cool.
There is ample research and expert opinion to substantiate and support this premise of smoking no longer being seen as a cool activity.
One website, tvtropes.org describes the Hollywood hero of old. The characters who smoked were often seen as the rebel, the outcast, the “bad-boy,” that is they were portrayed in a positive light. This imbued smoking with an association to something that is cool. In fact, in the entertainment media, you rarely saw anyone suffer any negative effects of smoking whether it was on their physical health, smoking over the objections of others, or any other negative consequences. Smoking was portrayed in positive fashion without any countervailing negatives. As the website states, “in older media from before the Surgeon General's report on tobacco use, smoking conveyed maturity, experience, and social acceptability,” i.e. it was the essence of cool.
“Wholefamily.com,” in 2001 gave their case as to why smoking cannot any longer be seen as being a cool thing to do. To paraphrase from their website, here are some of the reasons shy smoking is not cool
* Everyone knows that smoking is terrible for your physical health, it is an acknowledged killer.
* Smoking is not consistent with choosing to live life to the max, that is, living life as fully as you can, dying prematurely, getting cancer, COPD, or emphysema is not cool
* Smoking may still be seen as a somewhat adult thing to do, but there are other better things, one can do to be seen as, and, feel more adult, like exercise self-control, exercising your free choice and being responsible
* Non-smokers find smoking to be a turn-off, it fouls the breath, stinks-up the hair and ones clothes, makes kissing a drag-it is a filthy, dirty habit and everyone knows it
* Smoking makes the smoker a slave to their habit, making a lot of their behavior based on cues and triggers outside of their conscious deliberate choice, this is not cool
* Smoking is not cool, because it will disappoint your parents and many of your friends who do not smoke (of course if this is your objective to shock and shake-up these people, it may be useful to some in that regard)
* Taking over your own destiny and being in control of your own life-that’s cool this website says, and, smoking greatly undermines this accomplishment
Another website, “helath24.com” also had some interesting insights as to why smoking is not cool:
* Smoking is an acknowledged killer
* “Cigarettes make your breath smell. Kissing after you’ve had a cigarette is almost like licking out an ashtray.”
* Smoking makes it significantly more likely you will break a bone and after breaking, healing is much slower.
“Smoking causes impotence. Smoking reduces peripheral vascular flow and the blood flow necessary to attain an erection may become blocked.”
* Smoking even affects a person’s blood flow and circulation and can result in a smoker having unusually cold feet or hands.
* Smoking yellows the skin and stains the teeth.
* There are easier and better ways to appear older, more mature, more adult-like.
* Smoking can give the smoker a perpetual cough, and wheezing sound that makes the smoker look and sound older then he/she really is.
* Of course, do not forget that smoking is very expensive”, and as the tobacco companies know that demand for cigarettes is highly price insensitive, future steep price increases are practically guaranteed.