The Blog

The Art of Smoking

To a non smoker, the concept of smoking is often considered absurd. A regular smoker could and does spend up to £50 a week on a biting cigarette addiction, regularly strolling to the local shop to buy a box or tobacco packet decorated with a picture of a dying baby, a pussing red globular throat tumour, or a simple corpse.

To a non smoker, the concept of smoking is often considered absurd. A regular smoker could and does spend up to £50 a week on a biting cigarette addiction, regularly strolling to the local shop to buy a box or tobacco packet decorated with a picture of a dying baby, a pussing red globular throat tumour, or a simple corpse.

The death rattle cough that marks a dedicated smoker is enough to make a tobacco virgin wince, and that isn't the half of it. Smoking makes you stink, it discolours your teeth, it ages your skin, and, as a minor aside, it rots your vital organs until they are brown and unrecognisable.

So why on earth does any human being with all five senses and a reasonable comprehensive capacity keep lighting up? From my experience, there are several reasons why smoking is still so appealing.

Firstly, cigarettes can affect weight loss. The combination of a black coffee and a fag can do marvels for your digestive system, as well as acting as a perfect replacement for a snack as the sensation of smoking can soften the sharpness of a hunger pang.

Secondly, a slither of self romanticisation flickers through the minds of a certain percentage of smokers who imagine their image in an out of body-esque style as they sit with their backs against the wall of a nearby gallery and blow smoke wistfully towards the sky. There are many smokers who enjoy smoking precisely because it is bad for them, and the combination of self romanticisation and self destruction culminates into the mysterious, sensitive and misunderstood caricature image that the cigarette compliments so beautifully.

Few people will admit to adhering to this, but in my mind it has been woven into a cultural tapestry so often that it is difficult to avoid the idea flashing intermittently across our minds.

The cigarette over the years has been used to represent a variety of signifiers across a multimedia spectrum. Films such as Lynch's Wild at Heart contain constant shots of lit cigarette ends, accentuating the potential for violence when entranced with extreme desire.

The iconic photograph of Bob Marley laughing as smoke unfurls effortlessly from his mouth can be read as a translucent manifestation of his light hearted philosophy on life. Yet where does this idea of smoking as a paragon of 'cool' originate from?

It is undeniable that modern day advertising strategies have focused on sculpting a formula for 'cool' in which smoking is a key player. The leather jacket, the fur coat, the red lipstick and the doc marten have all been so beautifully sponsored by enviably good looking celebrities that it has rocketed profit tenfold.

Yet where did the idea of using psycho analysis to influence consumption come from? In Britain and the United States, the transition from a needs to a desires culture was jump-started by a man named Edward Bernayse, the nephew of Sigmund Freud.

Living in a post war world where self examination was considered taboo, Bernayse straddled the discoveries that his uncle Sigmund Freud had unearthed on the unconscious and manipulated his uncle's research into a tool for mass persuasion. Bernayse harnessed this power of visual association in a booming industrial America that had resulted in millions of people clustered together in cities, ripe for an act of mass persuasion. Bernayse was determined to hone in a way of determining the way these crowds thought and felt, calling upon his uncle Sigmund for advice. Funnily enough, it was Bernayse's gift of Havana cigars that landed him with a copy of Freud's General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, an exchange that arguably led to the creation of the foundations of commercial advertising.

So when Bernayse was approached by George Hill, the president of the American Tobacco Corporation, with the challenge of eradicating a 50% loss in market interest, Bernayse masterminded a plan to convince women to light up.

The anti female smoking taboo was undeniably created by a patriarchal dominance which triumphed in every corner of post war society, producing waves of anti patriarchal demonstrations. The fervour of the notorious suffragette movement manifested itself at an annual Easter day parade in New York, 1929.

Seizing an opportunity to make waves in front of the press, Bernayse persuaded a group of female debutants to hide cigarettes amongst their clothes whilst smiling and waving from a float which follow directly behind the suffragettes. A powerful visual image of a burning torch unfurled in the palm of every suffragette as they marched for female liberty. The Debutants, when prompted, unleashed their cigarettes and lit them dramatically, causing an undeniable psychological connection between the idea of female autonomy, and the object of the cigarette.

Needless to say, we've been smoking ever since.