In 1950s ads, a lone cowboy rode his horse across the West traveling from town to town. Like most cowboys, he had the necessities: food, water, and a six-shooter. This particular cowpoke, however, made sure to keep one additional item on him at all times: a pack of Marlboro Reds. Years ago, the Marlboro Man was a shining image of masculinity throughout the United States. Today, he is long gone, merely a reminder of the rugged spirit of the men who built this nation and made it into the greatest power the world has ever seen.
Tobacco, and nicotine broadly, have been run out of most places in America with warnings of imminent death if one should so much as touch a cigarette or cigar. This mindset recently led California voters to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco and vaping products by ballot measure. In Silicon Valley, the stigma against cigarettes is even worse—it’s so bad that it is joked about in popular media. In the HBO hit Silicon Valley, one of the characters, Monica, even has to smoke in secret. When smoking a cigarette at Stanford, one must almost do so in secret… or risk being bombarded by middle-aged women and college students with dirty looks and rolling eyes.
We’re not trying to convince you that tobacco doesn’t take a time off your lifespan: we know it does! Almost every medical study shows that to be true. The real problem here is a society that has launched a war on nicotine, but is willing to fill the vacuum with other substances that are just as questionable. It not only shows our societal risk aversion but a deep-seated problem with any substances that spur people to contribute to society in an active way. This transition feminized America, this country now embraces risk aversion and passivity.
One way to judge a society is its drugs of choice. Attacking tobacco and nicotine while ignoring—or promoting—marijuana is a sign of our societal progression toward sloth. When students casually ask each other “do you smoke?” they very rarely mean any kind of tobacco. Instead, they refer to the skunky-smelling and tranquilizing cannabis, a drug that’s all but taken the place of tobacco. We’ve gone from wanting to smoke a high-energy plant to one that takes energy and motivation away. Also, no matter what anyone tells you, they both generate carcinogens. So other than the smell, what’s the difference? Well, unlike marijuana, nicotine is a stimulant, it promotes a sense of urgency.
For this very reason, tobacco use was commonly associated with academia for decades. Last year, Tablet Magazine interviewed world-renowned academic and grand strategist Edward Luttwak and he argued that some of the increase in productivity during the Scientific Revolution was due to nicotine. Luttwak said “a big jump in intellectual achievement took place among Europeans, all of whom smoked. The social history of nicotine begins with the sharpening of the brain. I stopped smoking long ago but still I miss it.” While Dr. Luttwak no longer partakes in those sweet cancer sticks he still enjoys plenty of nicotine. In fact, he went on to say, “take away my nicotine patches, and I am immediately 5-10 IQ points stupider, which I can’t afford.”
One should be aware that not only is it now unfashionable to smoke tobacco, but it’s also a faux pas to use any type of nicotine. Juul, the formerly popular e-cigarette, couldn’t even stay on shelves once people found out that teenagers could possibly get their hands on them. But were teenagers really attracted to Juul for the fun flavors, or was it the fact a “nic high” increases productivity? Last year, the FDA even stepped in to regulate synthetic tobacco products like Zyns—a smoking alternative that even anti-tobacco campaigners acknowledge has few worse effects than gum irritation.
At worst, both of these forms of nicotine will slap people with dry mouths and nausea. What do both of these have in common, however? They’re arguably safer than weed—producing few, if any carcinogens—yet they don’t receive the same star-studded treatment in modern pop culture. It symbolizes our switch from a masculine culture of doing to a feminine one of docility.
Perhaps one day people indulge their stimulant fix with only diet coke… that is until it falls out of fashion as well. Already, some political pundits expound on diet coke’s “negative” health effects, the “addiction” it causes, and the fact that Elon Musk has a few cans of it by his bedside. Ultimately, what really matters goes beyond the idea that the wars on cigarettes, tobacco, and nicotine are linked to a lack of societal initiative.
The more important point is that this society—especially the people who shout “my body, my choice!”—have no right to judge those who enjoy cancer sticks. It’s time for cigarette smokers to reclaim phrases like “going out for a smoke.” Until that day comes, we’ll continue blackening our lungs with smiles on our faces.