Is Smoking Sexy

Cigarettes and sex appeal | Has the allure of smoking finally burned out?

A new study reveals that non-smokers outperformed smokers on dating apps. Is smoking sexy, or is the appeal gone for good?

Is smoking still sexy? A new study reveals that non-smokers outperformed smokers on dating apps, after years and years of cigarettes’ association with sex.

There’s an academic explanation for why smoking has long been considered sexy. It involves advertising campaigns dating back to the 1880s when tobacco companies placed cardstocks in cigarette packets featuring attractive young women in lingerie. Moving into the 20th century, the most desirable faces of the day were pictured ciggie in hand, with everyone from doctors to movie stars advocating for the cosmetic and physical benefits of smoking.

Tobacco companies knew that sex sold and the attractiveness of smoking was no longer implicit. It was part of the reason people did it. When you think of the heyday of smoking, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, Paul Newman, Sean Connery etc., all looked mighty fine with a fag in hand, mainly because of the narrative around smoking at the time. Even fictional historical characters like Don Draper and Tommy Shelby have used cigarettes to help create a brooding, sexualised character.

is smoking sexy paul newman cool hand luke

Paul Newman in a scene from the film ‘Cool Hand Luke’, 1967. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

There’s also the I’ve-just-come-up-with-these-theories-but-they-sound-logical explanation for why smoking has long been considered sexy, particularly in the years after the side effects became common knowledge. Smoking personifies a hedonistic attitude; forget tomorrow; all we have is the moment. It’s the perfect amount of risk – deadly long-term but okay (spare me, please) short-term.

A game of Russian roulette is a bit intense, so just have your brush with death through an occasional cigarette. It’s also a privilege only afforded to adults – burning tobacco, something tantalisingly out of reach during the formative teenage years when all you want to do is whatever you’re not supposed to do. All of these factors are, of course, exacerbated by the aforementioned advertising and celebrity factors.

is smoking sexy marlon brando

Marlon Brando (1924 – 2004) and Vivien Leigh (1913 – 1967) relax on the set of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, circa 1951. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Conversely, to many nowadays, smoking is an incredibly unattractive habit. It’s expensive, unhealthy, and will lead to yellow teeth and wrinkled skin. It indicates a lack of restraint, judgement, long-term thinking and impulse control. Then there’s the fact that what appears cool on-screen or after a few drinks can smell like ash, sound like coughing and look like ageing when encountered in the cold light of day. 

You have to imagine – as smoking rates decrease, prices rise, and the prospect of prohibition becomes ever more legitimate – the latter viewpoint will become more and more prevalent. And one study from the dating app Dua, suggests most people fall on that side of the argument already. 

is smoking sexy smoking kills

The real side of smoking. The label was added to cigarette packets in Canada in 2000. (Photo by Pierre Roussel/Newsmakers)

A survey of 460,000 users was fairly overwhelming. In general, smokers receive 52.7 per cent fewer matches than non-smokers, while non-smoking users received substantially higher match rates than their smoking peers – 111.4 per cent, to be precise. The difference was particularly pronounced among non-smoking women, who received 63.6 per cent more matches than female smokers.

I’ll admit I’ve never heard of Dua before. It seems to be an Albanian-developed app with the tagline, “where Albanian singles meet”. However, there are international users as well. Whatever the demographic, 460,000 is no small number, and even if most respondents are from Albania, they like a ciggie there even more than the British. Just 19 per cent of Brits smoke, compared to 29 per cent of Albanians.

is smoking sexy cigarettes

A couple smoke cigarettes in a public house in Bath, on June 30 2007 in Somerset, England. From 6am July 1, smoking in all enclosed places such as cafes and pubs was banned. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Even then, a study of this kind could never be wholly authoritative or conclusive. Dating apps are not representative of an entire population, and the ‘Smoker’ or ‘Non-Smoker’ tags on dating profiles are undeniably less attractive than seeing a cigarette in hand. One is a bad lifestyle etched into digital stone. The other is a bad lifestyle choice that blows away with the wind.

Dua’s is the latest in a series of studies failing to answer the sweeping question. Not because they did anything wrong – it’s an interesting survey with clear results – but because the answer will always depend, not just on the eye of the beholder, but predominantly on the person smoking.

17th July 1956: American film star Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962) accepts a light from British thespian Laurence Olivier (1907 - 1989) at a press conference at the Savoy Hotel, London. (Photo by Harry Kerr/BIPs/Getty Images)

17th July 1956: Marilyn Monroe (1926 – 1962) accepts a light from Laurence Olivier (1907 – 1989) at a press conference at the Savoy Hotel, London. (Photo by Harry Kerr/BIPs/Getty Images)

Because day to day, smoking is and will become less and less attractive as fewer and fewer people partake. It will surely remain the case that when famous, good-looking people are professionally photographed with a cigarette in hand, it looks as sexy as ever. It even seems possible that the rarer and more risqué the cancer sticks become, the more they will inspire fantasy – as much for what they suggest as what they actually do.

Leave a Reply

More like this