NOTE: I don’t smoke. Nor do I want to.
In this month’s Esquire — no Klosterman, by the way. This will not stand. — I counted four photos of men smoking cigarettes for no clear reason. These were not cigarette ads. These also were not candid photos. These men are models, and one of their accessories was a burning cigarette.
It looks awesome.
This is kind of surprising, but it probably shouldn’t be. Smoking has almost always been cool. It is only within the last 30 years or so, after people realized how harmful* smoking is, that it became passe.
*Personally, and I have no scientific evidence to back this up, I think the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes have been exaggerated, but that’s pretty much an inarguable point. It’s easy to demonstrate that smoking is unhealthy, but impossible to demonstrate that it is not as unhealthy as “we’ve been led to believe.”
The question is, What does this mean? And how did smoking become cool again?
I think the answer to the last question is pretty obvious. Smoking became cool the same way anything becomes cool — cool people are seen doing it. In this case, that cool person is Barack Obama.
Before Obama, the coolest known smoker was Colin Ferrell, and he’s actually incredibly lame. The smoking is part of his constructed persona, and, therefore, worthy of ridicule.
This is not the case with Obama, whose constructed persona is totally elitist. Maybe the smoking is the exception that proves the rule with him, but I doubt it. At first, I think it was an endearing flaw, and Obama would address it with that huge toothy grin of his and sort of marginalize it be sheer force of personality. It was cool, the way he did that. And as a result, his smoking was cool. It makes him seem like he could go rogue at any time, like, if somebody crossed him, he’d just eliminate Uganda with that big toothy grin and his force of personality.
If you’re Phillip Morris, can you think of anyone else in the world you’d rather have as a known smoker? Who combines the coolness and the influence of Barack Obama? Nobody. You’re No. 2 choice is probably George Clooney, and that’s a distant, distant second.
The great thing for the tobacco companies is that they didn’t even need that much help. Not only are cigarettes highly addictive, they’re also inherently cool (or at least inherently American) to begin with. They’ve always carried a whiff of independence, rebellion, free-spiritedness.
But only for the last 20 years or so, cigarette smoking has come with connotations of poverty, lack of discipline and poor hygiene.
I think Barack Obama has changed that. How’s that for change we can believe in?