Why Do We Still Think Smoking Is Sexy?


Cigar Aficionado cover celeb Michael Douglas quit smoking four years ago. Recently, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and according to reports, there’s a chance he could lose his voice. And yet: Smoking still holds a certain sex appeal.

Back in the day, Michael Douglas’s father Kirk Douglas starred did Chesterfield ads, which insisted that cigarettes can leave a “clean, fresh” taste in your mouth.

In the movies, Jean Paul Belmondo, Bette Davis and other silver-screen stars smoked during romantic moments; often having a cigarette was a signal for wanting sex, a clue that a character had just had sex, or a straight-up substitute for a sex scene.

But smoking was also for the tough guys, the rebels.

Decades after the Official Findings and the Surgeon General reports, even though we knew better — smoking was still a way to telegraph sex/sexiness to an audience. (Smoking was also marketed as a feminist act and something beautiful.)

Today, many hugely famous people — from Jennifer Aniston to Angelina Jolie to the President of the United States — have been seen with a cigarette in their mouth. Since we no longer believe tobacco is about a “clean, fresh” taste, a cigarette now says: I’m edgy. I have a devil-may-care attitude. Nonchalance is sexy, as is danger; being photographed smoking a cigarette now is like having your picture taken straddling a motorcycle or in a sports car. Risk gets the blood racing, just like sex. Yet we seldom see celebrities doing fashion shoots with a dirty needle, a salmonella-tainted egg, or a gun to the head.

In 2003, a smoking ban was passed in notoriously gritty and night-life obsessed New York City. Standing on a street corner in the winter can certainly make smoking lose its sex appeal. But in 2007, Mad Men premiered, and people are still writing essays about how the show — set in the NYC of the ’60s — allows audiences to vicariously revel in bad behavior like smoking, drinking and shagging someone you’re not married to. Separating the sex appeal from the wafts of smoke is nearly impossible.

But there’s nothing sexy about Michael Douglas’s illness — or the 50 people an hour who die from tobacco-related illnesses. So. Why do we still think a cigarette is smoking hot?

Earlier: Vintage Commercials Show Smoking As A Feminist Act
How To Market Death To Women: Make It Sexy, Make It Pink

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