WHAT first attracted me to the multi-millionaire, Franco-Swiss financier and philanthropist Arpad Busson? It wasn’t his acute financial acumen, the fantasy of a life with a raffish demi-aristocrat on the Cote d’Azur, nor even the size of his hedge fund, but something more rebellious – it was the lit fuse that dangled so insouciantly between his thin lips.
Elle Macpherson’s ex and Uma Thurman’s on-off fiancé appears in the latest Harper’s Bazaar in a photograph that simply reeks of animal magnetism, all because of the addition of a single prop: a lit cigarette.
Curiously, another previously ungainly figure has been transformed behind a veil of smoke. In last week’s copy of ShortList magazine, portly comic actor James Corden, was similarly transformed into a far steelier and edgier character, again via the touch of La Diva Nicotina.
In reality, I can barely hold a conversation with a smoker, let alone drift off into a reverie of cocktails, romance and Egyptian cotton sheets. I find the breath of a smoker to be as tolerable as that of a salivating British bulldog. But the image still has a certain bewitching glamour, which movies, television and magazines are re-igniting.
Why does the cigarette, which brings with it such an ugly retinue, including halitosis, peri-oral lines, collagen degradation and, of course, the dark spectres of oral and lung cancer, still look so damn sexy? Well, one only has to watch a single episode of Mad Men, BBC4’s hit series set in the 1960s world of advertising executives, with their tight suits, black-rimmed glasses and two fingers of Scotch at noon all enveloped by the billowing fog of cigarette smoke, to feel oneself mentally reaching for a gold-crested pack of Sobranie Black Russian.
It is a trend noted by John Davidson, brand consultant, stylist and writer. “It is a bit of a fad at the moment as fashion is so hugely influenced by Mad Men, Tom Ford’s A Single Man, and Nine – three productions set in the early 1960s and all shot through swirling curlicues of cigarette smoke.
“There’s so much about the aesthetics of that era (especially America in that era) that seems incredibly compelling, especially now that we’re so bored with and exhausted by references to the 1980s. And the fog of cigarette smoke is certainly a big factor in capturing that period. But I don’t think it encourages people to believe that smoking is cool or sexy, let alone something that we all ought to be doing more of – it registers as a strange thing that people used to do, much like the hideous bullying and rampant sexism that characterises the goings-on at Sterling Cooper (the ad agency in Mad Men].
“Smoking has often added a powerful allure to movie and fashion imagery. One of my all-time favourite photographs is the iconic Helmut Newton still of an androgynous model in YSL’s le smoking – a lit cigarette held between her thumb and forefinger. It’s an incredibly powerful, sexy, provocative image. Millions of women might want to emulate this vision of nonchalant glamour, and it’s not an image that could be used by the anti-smoking lobby – but I very much doubt it ever inspired anyone to light up.”
The tragic fact, however, is that cigarette manufacturers have proven themselves adept at capturing the hearts and soon-to-be-blackened lungs of millions of men and women through the power of a simple image. In the 1920s, when tobacco barons were concerned that only men were picking up the habit, thus depriving them of half the market, they organised photographs of suffragettes smoking what were described as “torches of freedom”. Smoking was immediately wrapped up with the image of rebellion. It was an idea furthered by James Dean in his portrayal of definitive teen angst in Rebel Without A Cause, whose poster saw the star cradling a lit cigarette, making them an obligatory accessory for disaffected youth everywhere.
Of course, it is hard to rebel when a behaviour has been adopted by the masses. The irony is that our aggressively no-smoking culture could be the petri dish for a new generation of rebels. Certainly Ash Scotland, the anti-smoking charity, is concerned about the new vogue for images of celebrity smokers and the negative effect they could have on the younger generation.
“Sadly the image of celebrities or ‘cool’ models smoking is often one that is very attractive to young people who aspire to be like these icons,” said Sheila Duffy, the charity’s chief executive.
She added: “A lot of work is done trying to prevent young people from smoking and educating them in the harm caused by smoking so such images are very unhelpful.
“Both prevention and available and accessible stop-smoking support are essential if smoking is to be tackled in Scotland. After all tobacco is a uniquely dangerous product. There is no other product sold in our shops which if used as directed can kill you.
“Fifteen thousand young people in Scotland take up smoking every year. There are many social and cultural reasons. Teenage smoking has often been seen as cool or a rite of passage, but over the past few years there has been a cultural shift. We now are not only seeing fewer teenage smokers, but also more active involvement in youth-led prevention projects such as peer education and youth advocacy.
“They are raising awareness about smoking and the harm caused by tobacco to their peers and others and this is set to increase in the decade ahead. Without tobacco, our young people have a much brighter future ahead of them.”
Although cigarettes still exude an edgy glamour, especially when pressed between the pursed lips of a skinny model, we only have to look at one of their loyal disciples, Kate Moss, to see how she has aged beyond her non-smoking peers.
The damage smoking does is seen every day by Dr Darren McKeown, one of Scotland’s leading aesthetic medical practitioners, with clinics in Glasgow and Harley Street.
“It used to be very fashionable to smoke but I think those days are well and truly over. Beautiful young models and handsome icons were often photographed taking long sultry draws from cigarettes, but the reality was that if they carried on smoking then they didn’t stay looking young and beautiful for very long. A common misconception is that the only effect cigarette smoke has on the skin are the fine lines above the lip, the so called ‘smokers lines’. In fact, the damage to the skin is much more extensive. Chemicals inhaled in cigarette smoke stimulate an enzyme which breaks down collagen, prematurely ageing the skin all over the body with deeper lines and wrinkles across the entire face, not just the top lip.
“What makes matters worse is that smokers also tend to be thinner with less subcutaneous fat on the face. As we get older we rely on a healthy layer of fat to keep the face looking youthful and plump and when this is lost the face looks old and gaunt. Couple this with the poor skin quality and it is easy to understand why smokers in their early thirties can often look well into their forties.
“It is my job to help men and women maintain their looks as they get older although there is only so much I can do. If people want to look the best they possibly can then they need to work with me, leading a healthy lifestyle and particularly avoiding cigarettes.”
There are attempts to eradicate the image of the smouldering cigarette, or at least elevate it to the top shelf out of the reach of smaller hands.
Anti-smoking lobbyists would like to see all films which feature smoking slapped with an 18 certificate, but even if they are successful the beguiling glamour that confronts the reader with the flick of a magazine page may still remain.
Smoking: the facts
• SCOTLAND remains entranced by nicotine. Four years on from the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places and our national fingers remain sepia stained whilst our lungs are filled with tar. Figures released last month by the Office of National Statistics show that 24 per cent of all Scots smoke, a drop of just 1 per cent since the ban was enacted.
• The figures in England and Wales are lower, with just 21 per cent of the population smoking. Scotland also has a larger proportion of heavy smokers – those who suck their way through 20 or more cigarettes each day – at 8 per cent compared to 6 per cent in England and Wales.
• There are smokers who are proud of their defiance in the face of society’s continued hostility to their habit. When the figures were released, Simon Clark, director of Forest, the smoker’s lobby group, said: “People have not given up smoking. They smoke elsewhere, in the street or at home. In many cases, smokers are digging in their heels and reaching for fags in defiance.”
• Or, alternatively, the addictive grip of decades of practice is proving harder to wrestle loose. Tragically, there is one way smokers are quitting: each year 13,500 deaths are caused by smoking.
• There is still cause for celebration, however. A separate Scottish Government report has found that since the smoking ban there has been a 19 per cent drop in heart attacks among smokers, a 39 per cent drop in second-hand smoke exposure to adults and children and an 89 per cent drop in exposure to bar workers.
12 March 2010
By Lori Anderson, Scotsman