Has the “Smoking Kills” campaign actually killed smoking?
The memory of your parents telling you, in my case multiple times, not to smoke feels like a ubiquitous one. It feels like a piece of wisdom so normalised it belongs in the “talk” category; you have the drug talk, the sex talk, the drinking to excess talk, and the “I don’t think those friends are good for you” talk. Among those touch stones of parental advice you probably got the “don’t smoke” talk. Yet, I bet some of the people reading this article did it anyway. Just to try it, right?
Interestingly, smoking is declining as a habit. The Office of National Statistics published a survey in 2020 highlighting that even during the Covid-19 pandemic – when the mental health of the population broadly declined and consumption of alcohol increased, the number of people who habitually smoked declined.
However, I think this is explainable: smoking is arguably more vilified and less socially accepted than alcohol as a vice. This is because it is worse for your health, it is evidently more dangerous. Of course, the moderation argument can be made, as doing most things to the extreme without reasonable moderation is bad for your health. But smoking is uniquely harmful right? The downfall of “Big Tobacco” as an industry was the corporate malpractice of hiding scientific studies showing the direct link between regular tobacco use and prominent health issues, least of which was a direct increase in the likelihood of developing throat cancer. Moreover, the act of smoking has been banned from indoor spaces. The packaging of cigarette packets has been reformed; gone are the slick, smooth designs, instead it is a morbid warning about the effects smoking has on the body and grim photographs.
But people still smoke. It may be declining as a habit yet it is not extinct. The previously mentioned 2020 Office of National Statistics survey also revealed an increase in smoking in 18 to 25 year olds in spite of the common knowledge that smoking is definitively bad for you. So, the question remains: why do people do it?
I cannot answer for every single person. However, I used to smoke and I can explain why I did. I began smoking in college to handle the stress of doing an HNC in a year and night school highers with a conditional to the University of Glasgow on the line. It wasn’t the most peaceful of years. I found smoking a welcome relaxation tool. It was great to have a cigarette, feel the nicotine rush, and just not think about the next assignment. I didn’t look or feel cool. I wasn’t a suave french philosopher like Camu. I was a stressed 18 year old on the Cathcart station platform. I looked and felt like a bedraggled door-to-door salesman behind on the monthly quota. I don’t think the argument that people smoke to appear cool has much weight. None of my peers think it’s cool. In fact, many actively dislike it. However, I feel intuitively that smoking is a personal preference.
There are near endless activities that are dangerous, harmful, and have scientifically proven links to negative health benefits, yet people still do them because they want to. I feel we may be over-complicating and singling out smoking to the potential detriment of clarity.
Why do people smoke? Because they want to.