I used to smoke, but I quit. I got tired of waking up every morning, feeling sick until I sucked down a cigarette, but that’s not why I quit. I just realized that I wasn’t quite cool enough to smoke, that I should leave it to the movie stars. Now they’re quitting. The world is getting squarer and squarer every day. Whoever is funding all those “I miss my lung, Bob” billboards has chased smoking away. Entertainment is less cool. Only degenerates and bad guys smoke in movies. You’d have to look high and low to find a smoker on television. And I don’t mean a “very special” episode of Dawson’s Creek where Dawson has a lapse in moral judgment and smokes his first cigarette.
Because, whether you like it or not, cigarettes are cool. They’re sexy. A lit cigarette shows an existential disregard for the future. It is the nihilist’s wand. It indicates a dark intelligence, a suffering creativity expressed with a Rod Serling grimace or a Humphrey Bogart squint (actually it’s usually just an eye hit, but accomplished smokers know how to cover). You know what’s even cooler than smoking? Plucking that bit of tobacco from your tongue when you’re smoking an unfiltered cigarette.
According to a study by me, Quentin Tarantino movies would be 37% less cool without smoking. The whole Bette Davis thing that Helena Bonham Carter has going in Fight Club is 90% cigarette smoke. Sean Penn’s cool is 60% smoking (the other 40% is evenly split between his hair and the fact that he got Madonna). Imagine Bruce Willis in Die Hard without cigarettes. Half of his performance was the supercool way his barefoot and scared John McClane plucked a cigarette from that rumpled soft pack. He even offers his last cigarette to villain Alan Rickman when they stumble across each other near the end of the movie. Two supercool guys sharing cigarettes. I asked for soft packs after that. Bruce Willis blows up a 747 with his Zippo in the sequel. If he hadn’t been a smoker, the bad guys would have gotten away.
Where would the careers of Harvey Keitel, Jeremy Irons, and James Spader be without cigarettes to help make them cool? Okay, maybe James Spader isn’t a good example, but his lack of a career probably has nothing to do with his smoking. I don’t know if James Bond ever smoked, but he should have; he’s English. Just try and tell me he’s not ready to light up after a few of those shaken martinis. Wounded soldiers always have lit cigarettes put to their lips by their buddies. Spielberg may have done his part for Holocaust remembrance, but it’s a sad bit of revisionism that Tom Hanks didn’t smoke in Saving Private Ryan. Anyone who didn’t want a cigarette after the first twenty minutes of that movie wasn’t human.
I don’t mean cigars. They’re so Churchillian. You don’t even inhale. Lou Diamond Phillips and Tom Arnold smoke cigars. And that guy in End of Days, whatshisname, that Austrian guy who hasn’t done a movie in a while. Even chicks smoke cigars these days. Pipes? Please. Anything that requires a special jacket, like cub scouts and crossing guards, is inherently dorky. If you smoke a pipe, you may as well go the whole nine yards and grow a handlebar mustache. Pipes are not cool. Merely laying your hand on a pipe qualifies you for the adjective ‘avuncular’.
Of course, there’s the argument that cigarettes are bad for you and we shouldn’t encourage kids to smoke. But anti-smokers have long had their hooks deep into the public school system. I remember being taught the evils of smoking back in 1976 in my fourth grade health class. I went home, broke up my mother’s cigarettes, and was grounded for a week. I was a martyr for the cause. It wasn’t until later in life when my will was bent by alcohol that I gave in to cigarettes. But to kids these days, smoking is as square as Zamfir, master of the pan flute.
Besides, movies are fantasies, not public service announcements. I’m tired of seeing heroes wearing seatbelts, literally and figuratively. According to the American Cancer Society, 46 million Americans smoke; that’s roughly 1 in 6 people. Yeah, sure, they smell bad, get cancer, die early, and can’t walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing like George Burns. That doesn’t mean they can’t star in movies. Let’s bring this lost segment of America back to the silver screen and restore to smoking the existential glamour of death-defying hipness that we knew back when movies were black and white, it was okay to drive home after getting plastered in a bar, and people didn’t snicker if you proposed lunging a fag. If anarchists, serial murderers, rogue cops, and prostitutes are eligible candidates for our protagonists, I don’t see why we can’t have smokers in there too.