Smoking is cool. It is a universal truth, and there is nothing that you or anyone else can do to change that. Accept it.

Paul Wong
Andy Taylor-Fabe

Critics will say that smoking kills millions of people and is highly addictive, and they are right of course. Cigarettes have a strangle-hold on most smokers and have caused countless early deaths, horrible, debilitating diseases and burn-holes in that sweater that you just bought.

However, when the hell did health and responsibility have anything to do with “cool”? Nothing is more attractive (especially for teenagers) than disregard for your personal well-being, self-destructive behavior and reckless contempt for authority. A cigarette becomes an extension of the big middle finger to adults, teachers and anyone else who tells you that smoking is bad.

To determine the causes of the inherent coolness of smoking, we must look to the public figures in popular culture. Picture Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon,” shoulders hunched, hat cocked to the side and a cigarette dangling loosely from his lips. Or recall Miles Davis in a dark room, clutching a cigarette between two fingers as he holds his trumpet. Or Bob Dylan circa 1966 with a tangled mess of hair, sunglasses and, sure enough, a cigarette. Or even a young Mike Wallace in the ’50s, bringing us the news with a thin, gray wisp of smoke rising from his side. These icons, among countless others, have defined cool for us, and there is nothing that medical science or commercials or our parents can tell us to change that. (One might then argue that it is smokers, not smoking itself, that are cool, but that is just a superficial, semantic argument, and we are losing our focus.)

It’s not that there are no cool non-smokers, but as much as you don’t want to admit it, that cool non-smoker would be even cooler with a cigarette. That is not the most popular opinion ever expressed, but deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you agree with me.

The problem is that it doesn’t work that way for everyone. Picture the typical 13-year-old suburban kid, standing outside a convenience store with some of his grubby friends, trying his hardest to exude coolness and convince everyone around him that he does not have an acne-ridden disaster area of a face and a vocal pitch that fluctuates with no warning, and is, in fact, 25 years old with a car, possibly a gun and definitely some beer. The cigarette isn’t fooling anyone, and his C.Q. (cool quotient) hasn’t risen.

Actually, I take that back. Even that kid is cooler.

We must also consider man’s obsession with fire. From the first time that a primitive human harnessed the unruly element, he has been captivated with the glowing red flame and the smoke that accompanies it. Cigarettes are like a portable inferno, and the dragon-like power to breathe smoke using this mystical wand of fire is an attractive prospect for many.

Another fire-related perk is that you have an excuse to carry a lighter, which has many other practical, scientific uses, e.g. burning things you find on your living room floor.

Smoking also becomes cool by default, since there is nothing as powerfully uncool as anti-smoking advertising or spokespeople. From the sanctimonious, faux-guerilla “Truth” ads to squeaky-clean rock stars who endorse healthy living, there are few things as lame as anti-smoking propaganda. Even the most avid non-smokers find themselves wanting to grab a pack and light up when they see the pious, handheld camera commercials showing youths sticking it to the tobacco companies.

A prime example of how non-smoking seriously detracts from the C.Q. of our leaders, institutions and role models is the recent re-vamp of James Bond. In the 60s and 70s, James Bond smoked as many cigarettes as he downed martinis, but with “Tomorrow Never Dies,” the sophomore effort from Pierce Brosnan, we see a sanitized James Bond, who calls smoking “a nasty habit” during one of his famous post-explosion quips. Contrary to popular belief, non-smoking, not the end of the Cold War, is responsible for Bond’s slow but steady fall from grace and from coolness.

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “He has simply been conditioned by the evil corporations who use finely-crafted placement of cigarettes in the media to perpetuate the myths about cigarettes and keep people smoking.” And maybe you’re right. I’m sure that there are tobacco executives sitting around right now, stroking their devil beards and tapping their cloven hoofs, thinking of ways to keep positive images of smoking alive.

(Columnist steps atop soapbox.)

However, we should stop treating kids like morons, because despite all of our hopes and dreams, all kids are going to eventually crack the code and discover the big secret that yes, smoking is cool.

There’s nothing you can do to stop that. All you can do is prepare them to deal with it and hope that they can sort it all out. Oh yeah, and drugs, drugs are good too.

– Andy Taylor-Fabe, who has always been a non-smoker, can be reached and/or

threatened at andytayl@umich.edu.

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