We are a family of three women who write about smoking. But why should it have come to any of our minds to think that smoking cigarettes is something worth writing about in public? We have probably explained this a bit in our introduction but following a discussion between the three of us recently we felt there was a bit more to say and we realised that it actually means a bit more to all of us than we have previously admitted to ourselves or others. Cassie started this blog and she thought she was a bit strange for doing so, but actually Tina and I (Sophie) are perhaps even more passionate about the subject.
(Cassie). I started this blog at a point when I was beginning to realise that smoking cigarettes was not seen as an acceptable and normal part of people’s lives anymore. Moreover there was a kind of prejudice against smokers that was growing to the extent that it was threatening aspects of my lifestyle. The problem was it had already become seen as a sin to say anything positive or defensive about smoking. The media was portraying smoking as a terrible blight on society and smokers as either sad, hopeless and pathetic addicts, or nasty, stupid, antisocial individuals. I deeply resented being labelled in any of those ways. I was just as aware as any thinking person of the health risks associated with smoking, but thought that as an adult I should have the right to choose what risks to take. I think at a deeper level I hated the idea that another class of people were being set up to take a prejudicial fall. The smokers I knew and associated with were generally creative people, artists, musicians and intellectuals… People who were often critical in many ways of mainstream society… Soft rebels… The anti smoking rhetoric was a way to get at them, to get at us. At the same time all sorts of anti-smoking legislation was beginning to take effect. The kind of lifestyle I had enjoyed in my teens and twenties, hanging out in smokey cafes and bars, was being attacked and smokers like myself were being excluded from the mainstream of the social world. I felt that we were being shoe-horned into being picture perfect, goodie-goodie, Disney versions of the people we wanted to be with unnaturally white teeth and no flaws or real substance.
Also, I must say, I was one of those people who had always liked smoking. I liked and still like everything about it; the social aspects, the taste, the nicotine kick, the image, the fashion. Indeed I enjoyed all the things about smoking that it was becoming politically incorrect even to mention never mind agree with!
So I faced a choice. I could either comply with the health fascists and try to become the clean living Disney princess that society seemed to want us all to become, or I could be true to my less than perfect self. Smoking thus became a point and symbol of rebellion. I never wanted or intended for it to be that way but it became so. Smoking started as a social and personal vice which it seemed obvious to me was something adults could choose to do. I wish it could still be just that.
(Sophie) When I started smoking it was, for me, not about rebellion, it was more about conformity. I’m Swiss. Swiss people smoked. Nearly all of them. Most of my family smoked. My parents smoked. As soon as I became a teenager most of my friends smoked and I started smoking too. I was an outsider and a bit rebellious in other ways to do with politics, my interests and even my sexuality (being bisexual was still seen as being quite avant garde in Switzerland in those times). But smoking cigarettes was the thing I had in common with nearly everybody else.
And I liked smoking cigarettes. I thought it was glamorous. The people I looked up to in fashion, music and films smoked and I guess I tried to emulate them to some degree. Am I supposed to feel bad or guilty about that? Well I don’t. By my late teens I was already a pretty heavy smoker. I started smoking cigars as well. Tobacco was part of my everyday life. It was equally part of life for everybody I knew.
Gradually I became aware that I had also developed something of a smoking fetish. I found women and men who smoked to be sexy and I learned to smoke in a sexy way for those partners of mine that appreciated such things. But still; it was all just part of life for the ambitious young woman that I was at that time.
When I found I was pregnant with Tina I stopped smoking immediately without too much fuss. I didn’t smoke at all for several years but I never intended to permanently stop. Soon after I had stopped breast feeding I started smoking again. It was a relief.
As I got a bit older I suppose smoking lost some of its glamour but I still enjoyed it along with most of the people I socialised with. It was not something I thought much about, it was just something I did. And again it gave me something in common with most other people and in my work it often helped me to make connections with very troubled young people that would have been even more difficult to reach otherwise.
And then even here in Switzerland they began to restrict some of the freedoms that smokers had always enjoyed and to a large degree change our culture and our way of life. Quite simply, I didn’t and don’t agree with the way smoking and smokers are portrayed and marginalised by some parts of the government and media. Health warnings became more like health laws. The idea that for health reasons you shouldn’t smoke became replaced by the idea that for health reasons you MUST NOT smoke and “we” are going to stop you.
I became rebellious about it. And then every aspect of smoking from the social side to the fetish side became important to me again. And smoking also seems to me to be linked to my Swiss and European identity. We do smoke here, even if it is unhealthy (which we know it is). We live on a continent which has been ravished by war several times. A continent which feels the impact of terrorism and mass immigration before most other places. A continent which will be the first place to be targeted by all sides if there were ever a Third World War. We are used to living with risks. What we have learned is to live as fully as we can while we can.
A few years ago my daughter told me that she had started smoking. Given all that I have said above, I can’t say I was surprised, shocked or angry. I was concerned because she was even younger than I was when I started smoking (although not by much). But what should I have done; forbidden her to smoke? That would only have created a barrier between us and made me a hypocrite in her eyes. I decided to accept it with as little fuss as possible. I thought it might just be a phase that she would get bored with. In the meantime she has grown up and it turned out not to be a phase. That is fine with me. There is nothing about my daughter that I would change.
(Tina) About a year after I first started smoking two strange things happened. First we had a kind of campaign at school to allow students to smoke in certain areas during the break times. Somehow I got involved quite deeply in that protest. We didn’t win really but the whole process made me think in a different way and I guess made me grow up in some ways. Until then I think most people didn’t notice me. I was a quiet girl who got good marks and whose mother was a teacher. But after that campaign the other students and teachers looked at me in a different way. In a way it was the birth of a new grown up version of myself; not because I smoked but because I had the guts to defend my decision.
The second strange thing was a bit more disturbing. A friend of mine found a picture of me smoking on the Internet. Even now we don’t know who took it or how it got on the Internet. It didn’t worry me as much as it worried my mother. She found out that it was on a smoking fetish site. I didn’t really understand what a smoking fetish site was at that time, but my mother did and she wasn’t pleased with whoever took and put that picture on the Internet!
Now I am a a few years older and I know what a smoking fetish is. I can understand why my mother was angry but I am not as angry about it as her. I suppose people of my age are more used to putting everything on the Internet. I am private about some things and have high security settings on my Facebook page and other sites I visit. Even on this site, I don’t give any sensitive information away. But of course I don’t like the idea that people can “get off” to pictures of me smoking without my knowledge or permission.
But I don’t mind it if I am in control. And I have come to the decision that I will allow some pictures of me to be seen as long as I decide what they are and who can see them. I might even earn some money from this.
I am at a point in my life where I am starting to take control of it more. I’m deciding who and what I want to be and how I want other people to see me. Cassie, my mother and I share similar beliefs about many things and so they respect my decisions and my independence. In some ways smoking is just one small thing about me, just one small thing that I do which is really nobody else’s business. However in another way it is a little symbol of my attitude to things in general. I think that maybe, if it wasn’t for me, Sophie and Cassie would have stopped writing this blog. I cause them to carry on and think about it more.
There are good things about smoking which you normally aren’t allowed to say these days but I will not shut up. Nicotine is a legal drug like alcohol and people use it just like alcohol because it makes them feel good. I like the feeling it gives me. It IS relaxing. It does sometimes help me to concentrate (when I study for example). It sometimes is a sociable thing. Sometimes it IS sexy. Sometimes it does look elegant and sophisticated.
Of course smoking can be addictive and it is a drug and it can cause health problems. Some people seem to think that even adults should not be allowed to use drugs if they choose to. Some people think that alcohol and tobacco should be completely banned. I am not one of those people. I don’t think governments should tell people how to live their lives even more than they already do. I would like to see more things legalised instead of more things banned or restricted.
I didn’t wait to become an adult just so society can treat me like a child for the rest of my life. My family brought me up to make my own decisions and that is what I will do. Probably I will make some mistakes and have some problems because of that, but I would rather it be that way than live like a sweet, unthinking robot for the rest of my life. So in fact, smoking is sort of a symbol of my attitude to life.