There’s a new anti-smoking campaign in the United States. Posters show smartly dressed, hip young people looking confidently into the camera. “We can be the generation to end teen smoking,” the text reads.
For as long as I can remember, anti-smoking campaigns have tried to convince young people that smoking isn’t cool. Dragging on a cigarette once was seen as rebellious, to show that you wanted to be like James Dean. Now, not smoking is supposedly the way to stand up to authority, rebelling against the tobacco mafia, so to speak.
When I was young, growing up in Germany, I didn’t think smoking was cool. I took it up only with great difficulty so I wouldn’t cough so much when someone passed me a joint. Smoking marijuana – now that was cool.
Another reason for smoking: I needed something to do while standing in a corner doing nothing at a party. So I took out a cigarette. No anti-smoking campaign could have kept me from doing it. If someone had asked, “Would you rather die than stand there in the corner like a loser with nothing in your hand?” I would have immediately said “yes.”
Today, of course, you can always pull out your smartphone and check Facebook. Parents should remember that when they criticize their children for always having a cell phone in their hands. If they didn’t, they’d be smoking.
The U.S. Department of Health did a study on the healthcare costs and well-being of non-smokers. One problem it found was people who gave up smoking often became depressed. Although not smoking is healthier, it unfortunately doesn’t make you happy – and it costs the healthcare system a lot to drive unhappiness out of our lives. So, in a way, society has a non-smoker problem.
Instead of targeting young people, the new U.S. anti-smoking campaign should take aim at people over 40. The people who still smoke today don’t do it because of peer pressure, but rather, despite immense social disapproval, because they want to draw nicotine fumes into their lungs.
People who smoke at work today can’t do it in the building. They have to go outside – standing out in the open like a health-warning monument, flicking ashes into the street in the rain.
You can be sure at least one fellow worker will comment on their cigarette and call attention to how unhealthy it is. They will get some new piece of acvice every day on how to control their addiction – because giving good advice to smokers is certainly a source of great satisfaction.
But for all the smokers who nevertheless stand outside in the rain, defiantly drawing on their cigarettes, there is at least one consolation. I don’t want to say it, but I believe they are the real rebels.
Tillmann Prüfer writes for Die Zeit Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.