Smoking isn’t cool. Everyone knows that it’s bad for your health, makes you smell nasty, turns your teeth and fingers yellow, and discourages people from kissing you. It also leaves a big mess wherever smokers congregate, and is increasingly inconvenient because of restrictions on where you may smoke. It can also lead to addiction, which makes being unable to have a cigarette (say on a long air trip) very uncomfortable. Even teens know all this.
So why, then, is teen smoking on the rise, even at a time when fewer adults than ever use tobacco? Some people are blaming the tobacco companies – saying that by making flavoured cigarettes, and selling them in smaller (more affordable) quantities, they are marketing directly at teens. These people want big tobacco to stop these practices, as well as cease all forms of marketing. Here in New Brunswick, starting in 2009, stores that sell smokables are going to have to hide them from view. (They already do this next door in Nova Scotia and PEI.) And of course it’s illegal to sell smokes to a minor.
This is, of course, ridiculous. No-one advertises marijuana or displays it in a store front and not only is it illegal to sell it to teens; it’s just plain illegal. Yet I haven’t noticed a marked decline in pot usage despite these measures. Making cigarettes harder to get is not going to reduce teen smoking, because as I said at the top, smoking isn’t cool.
But smokers are.
That’s why they smoke. They are the types of people who do romantic, dangerous, edgy, prohibited, difficult things. These are kids that skateboard down stair rails or do back flips off cliffs into the water or defy the teacher and get sent to the principal. They are what every teen wants to be: cool. So this predisposition to “coolness” in their personality makes them smoke, and by association, smoking itself becomes cool. Except it’s not. The proof of that is seen in the adult population, where willfully doing a stupid and expensive thing is NOT seen as cool, and as a result very few “cool” adults smoke. (Think about the crowd of folks you see clustered around the butt-catcher on their coffee break when it’s -20º out — any of them look like Brad Pitt? Didn’t think so.)
So instead of making smoking more difficult (and therefore, more desirable) for teens, let’s make smoking more available to them. So if you’re a teen, you can have unprotected sex with your boyfriend, ski way too fast down a hill, go wakeboarding at 50 knots, do BASE jumping, or smoke a cigarette. They’re all dangerous, they all give you a thrill, and they’re all discouraged but not (in my new model) prohibited by society.
The only thing different is that smoking is addictive and leads to long term health problems. So let’s remove that part. Manufacture cigarettes that don’t have any of the bad stuff in them, but look and taste just like real smokes. And put ’em next to the Doritos at the convenience store. And price them way lower than “adult” smokes, so only those people who are already addicted to nicotine would pay top dollar for the harmful ones.
You can drop my Nobel Prize off at the house.