Hollywood giveth, and Hollywood taketh away. Most of us who used to smoke got started for two reasons: our more exciting, less savory friends did it, and all the stars did it. For me, it didn’t help that the Beatles were smokers, in addition to pretty much every musician who charted during the ’60s and ’70s. I’m not sure why R.J. Reynolds even bothered to advertise.
You always wonder whether movies reflect the culture, or define it. With smoking, I’d choose the latter. I defy you to watch one classic movie between 1925 and 2005 that doesn’t have at least one cool character lighting up throughout. And it was more than just smoking; it was the whole vocabulary of mannerisms that went with it: the squint through smoke while threatening someone, the elegant two-finger ladies’ hold with an elbow propped on a table, the odd way certain Bond villains elevated the cigarette between thumb and forefinger. Film noir made cigarette smoke a character in itself, with its capacity to obscure the smoker and curl mysteriously through the light from Venetian blinds.They all made it pretty cool. They had to, because it’s not easy to start smoking. Believe me. It took me about a year of physical discomfort before I really got the hang of it at 16 or 17. If only I’d devoted the same effort to my studies!
I smoked because I wanted to carry a pack of Camels rolled up in the sleeve of my t-shirt. I also wanted to clench a cigarette in my mouth while riding a motorcycle. (Which I can no longer recommend, by the way.) I finally quit smoking at 27, when my younger brother-in-law defeated me in a wrestling match. I always blamed that on lack of lung capacity, even though it may have been a lack of skill.
Anyway, I think traditional smoking is going away. Now that celebrities can be seen vaping at awards shows, it’s just a matter of time. Probably not the worst thing, since there’s no longer actual smoke involved, which presumably means fewer toxins. I have a daughter who still smokes the old-fashioned way, and I’d be happier if she’d go this route. I’d be really happy if she’d swear off nicotine altogether, but I guess that’s not going to happen.
The subject of e-cigs is not without controversy though. It generates a lot of heated comments on the Internet, even on NPR’s normally civil site, where commenters have managed to identify each other as either shills for the tobacco industry or nanny-state sob-sisters.
That’s another reason I think this will be more than a fad. Sex-based ads are one thing. But controversy adds panache. The Los Angeles City Council has already voted to ban vaping in most public areas. Once this thing takes on a whiff of rebellion, it’s going to catch fire.