So, Has Smoking Gone Out of Fashion?


So, Has Smoking Gone Out of Fashion?

The WALK has used cigarettes as props in past photo shoots; pictured above is a photograph from our Winter 2011 “Penn Men” editorial.

When we’re young, parents and teachers impart certain messages to us: do well in school, don’t drink and drive, don’t get arrested – oh, and please don’t smoke. Even if your own parents didn’t say it, society certainly did, with programs like D.A.R.E. and campaigns like “The Truth” and “Above the Influence.” Yet, the tobacco habit is still surprisingly popular, even in the U.S.

Cigarette smoking is particularly salient in cities. If you ask me, Penn’s urban campus has its fair share of smokers – and most of them are students. I’m not a smoker, and I don’t enjoy getting trapped behind smokers on Locust Walk. When I do, I hold my breath. Call me over-sensitive or paranoid, but if you pay attention to the research about how dangerous second-hand smoke is, you’ll be holding your breath, too.

I’m not the only one on our campus who is repulsed by smoking. A group of six Wharton seniors recently conducted a survey of over 200 fellow undergraduates, and every two in three respondents found smoking to be either disgusting or very disgusting. Just as many reported that second-hand smoke either bothered them or really bothered them.

These are the words that came to the survey respondents’ minds first when they thought of cigarette smoking. The larger words represent words that more respondents reported.

So what is it about smoking that has historically made it so attractive – even sexy? Probably not the scent, or the black lung imagery associated with it. Yet, for a long time, cigarettes were seen as a sign of sophistication and elegance, especially in European countries, where smoking is still immensely popular today.

Perhaps it was Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe who made smoking sexy, as these bombshells spent photo shoot after photo shoot lounging with cigarette in hand. Or perhaps it was the character of James Bond who made cigarettes a symbol of power and cunning. Or maybe it was teenagers in films like The Breakfast Club and Grease, who ran around lighting up to look badass.

This photo shoot of Penn class presidents was inspired by the TV show, Mad Men, which frequently portrays smoking as an essential component of the alluring 1960s. 

Wherever the appeal originated, no one can deny that at some point, smoking was widely viewed as attractive. Today, no one can deny that the appeal of cigarettes is up for debate. In the survey of Penn undergraduates, 78 percent of respondents viewed smoking as at least somewhat lacking in sex appeal, while 52 percent viewed smoking as very un-sexy. Personally, I agree with the majority. Since when was destroying your body sexy? Over the years, it seems, people have become less attracted to and more disgusted by the habit of smoking. Finally, smoking is going out of fashion – and it looks like Penn kids are, for the most part, on board with that.

But are they on board with a university policy that would ban smoking on campus? Two thirds of the survey respondents at least somewhat believed that smoking should be restricted to designated areas on Penn’s campus, while only one third believed that it should be banned from Penn’s campus. Focus groups revealed that one reason students are wary of supporting a full-on ban is that they don’t see enforcement as feasible given that crime is high in West Philly, and people unaffiliated with our university visit the campus frequently.

Yet, by this past October, more than 820 colleges and universities across the country had already adopted a 100% smoke-free campus policy. Many more are currently moving toward restricting smoking on their campuses.

Although I dislike smoking, I do not support a complete ban. I doubt it would be effective. Before we go banning smoking in every corner of campus, let’s increase enforcement of rules already in place. I bet you didn’t know that as per University policy, smoking is prohibited within twenty feet of any entrance to a University-owned building. The University should start by making the policy known – and enforcing it. Penn should avoid excessively infringing upon the legal right to smoke, but it should make a better effort to make second-hand smoke avoidable for those who wish to avoid it. Perhaps a well-enforced policy banning smoking along Locust Walk would provide that middle ground.

-Jordan Hillier

Do you support a policy that would restrict smoking in highly frequented areas of Penn’s campus? Learn more, and show Penn you care by liking this page.

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